British prime minister visits Ukraine as fighting heat up in Donetsk


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Ukraine on Saturday, sending a signal of support for Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the PA News agency.

It is the prime minister’s first visit to the country since taking office last month.

“Britain knows what it means to fight for freedom,” Sunak tweeted. “We are with you all the way,” he told Zelensky.

A Sunak spokesperson said: “The prime minister is in Ukraine today for his first visit to Kiev to meet President Zelensky and confirm continued UK support.”

A video of the meeting, posted on Sunak’s Twitter account, shows him shaking hands with the Ukrainian leader in a snowy Kiev in front of the Union and Ukraine’s flag. The pair was also shown in a one-to-one meeting.

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors as prime minister, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Sunak pledged that British support for Ukraine in the fight against Russia will remain steadfast.

Sunak, who has spoken to Zelensky on more than one occasion
since entering Downing Street, used his appearance at the G20 this week to join allies and other Western leaders to condemn Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The visit comes after a missile hit a Polish village close to the Ukrainian border, initially sparking concerns Russia had struck a NATO member state. However, the tension has eased as more countries have come to the conclusion that the missile was a Ukrainian air defence missile gone awry.

Poland conducted a state funeral on Saturday for one victim. A second such funeral is planned for Sunday.

Sunak’s visit came as Russia’s Defence Ministry reported warding off Ukrainian offensives in Luhansk and Donetsk, both parts of Ukraine that Russia claims as its own after annexing them, a policy rejected by Ukraine and most other countries.

Fighting in Donetsk has grown especially intense. One Ukrainian soldier posted on social media that the fighting there is the most intense he’s seen since the fighting began. Much is focusing on a front near the small town of Bakhmut.

The city remains in Ukrainian hands, but is hotly contested, with mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group trying for months to gain control of it.

Nonetheless, spirits seem high in Kiev. A deputy defence minister told a British broadcaster on Saturday that he thinks it is possible that Ukrainian soldiers might take back Crimea by December and that the war could be won in the next six months.

Meanwhile, the Russian Baltic Fleet is preparing numerous large-scale military exercises, its press service said on Saturday, according to the Interfax news agency.

“During the winter training period, the Baltic Fleet’s training grounds are scheduled to hold several dozen large-scale manoeuvres at various levels – involving armoured and motorised rifle units, air defence, radio, artillery and reconnaissance squads, as well as the fleet’s air force,” the press service said.

The Baltic Fleet is based in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The training year begins in the armed forces on December 1.

The Baltic Fleet has included a larger army unit since 2016 with the formation of the 11th Army Corps. It had only recently become known that this corps had been strengthened with an additional motorised rifle division.

The Russian military justified the upgrade with NATO’s high level of activity on Russia’s western borders.

Kaliningrad is surrounded by EU countries Poland and Lithuania and is located more than 1,000 kilometres from Moscow as the crow flies, but only about 500 kilometres from Berlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) receives UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prior to their meeting at the Mariyinsky Palace. -/Ukrainian Presidency/dpa