Rishi Sunak makes surprise intervention on Ukraine as anniversary of Russia war looms

Exclusive: Prime minister tells people of Ukraine the ‘hearts of the British people’ are with them

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Sunday 29 January 2023 08:26 GMT
UK will provide Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, Rishi Sunak confirms

Rishi Sunak has said that the “hearts of the British people” are with Ukraine in a surprise intervention on the war.

The prime minister also paid tribute to the ongoing bravery of ordinary Ukrainians.

With just weeks to go before the first anniversary of the conflict, Mr Sunak reiterated his pledge that the UK government would stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.

His renewed support for the people of Ukraine came as he passed a personal message to the Ukrainian ambassador to pass onto to President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine at a fundraiser at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Part of the auction included a signed photograph of Mr Sunak with the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, donated by the prime minister.

Speaking at the event he said: “The hearts of the British people are with the brave people of Ukraine as they fight for their freedom. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Germany and the US announced this week they will follow the UK’s lead and provide tanks to Ukraine in a move the country’s leaders hope will be a ‘game changer’ in the war.

But within days Ukrainians faced a barrage of Russian-launched rush-hour missiles across the country.

Ukrainian officials said they believed the attacks were Moscow’s response to the announcements that Ukraine would be supplied with M1 Abrams and German-built Leopard tanks.

Mr Sunak signalled his commitment to Ukraine within weeks of entering Downing Street last year when he paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv.

He was pictured greeting president Zelensky in the snowbound city and later reassured him that Britain too “knows what it means to fight for freedom”.

Last week his predecessor Boris Johnson made a visit to Ukraine despite warnings from senior military figures that he should stay away and stop “looking for publicity” in a warzone.

And president Zelensky later poured cold water on the idea he would support a comeback bid by Mr Johnson to return as prime minister.

That suggestion was “not correct”, he said, as he talked up his “good relations” with Mr Sunak.

Saturday night’s fundraiser sponsored by the Natalia Cola Foundation was held to raise money for Ukrainian artists who have struggled since Russia invaded last year.

Donations were also made by Ukrainian artists, while British artists participating included Tracey Emin and Sir Antony Gormley. More than £220,000 was raised The war has been raging since it erupted in February of last year.

On the 21st of that month Russia announced it was recognising two states of Ukraine as independent. Three days later, President Putin unveiled a ‘special military operation’ marking the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Last night Vadym Prystaiko the Ukraine Ambassador expressed his gratitude to Sunak for offering his renewed support.

“Prime minister Sunak is showing what a great friend he is of Ukraine. We have endured terrible attacks from Russia and we will continue to endure and to keep fighting for freedom from this horrendous onslaught.

"We have always known who are enemies are but the good thing is we now know who are friends are and high on that list is Prime Minister Sunak and the United Kingdom.”

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