Rishi Sunak made a surprise visit to Kiev on Saturday to meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on his first visit to the country since taking office.
Zelenskiy posted a video on Saturday of him meeting Sunak in the capital. “In today’s meeting, we discussed the most important issues both for our countries and for global security,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
A spokesman for No 10 said: “The Prime Minister is in Ukraine today for his first visit to Kyiv to meet with President Zelenskiy and reaffirm the UK’s continued support.”
Following in the footsteps of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Sunak has pledged that Britain’s support for Ukraine in the fight against Russia will remain steadfast.
The prime minister, who has spoken to Zelensky more than once since entering Downing Street, took advantage of his appearance at the G20 this week to join allies and other Western leaders in condemning Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Sunak’s arrival was accompanied by the announcement of a £50 million package of defense aid consisting of 125 anti-aircraft guns and technology to help Ukraine fight Iran-supplied drones, including radars and anti-drone technology.
Sunak laid flowers at a memorial to the war victims in Kyiv and lit a candle at a memorial to the victims of the Holodomor famine before meeting emergency services at a fire station.
He said it was “deeply humiliating” to be in Kiev. “I’m here today to say that the UK and our allies will continue to support Ukraine as it fights to end this barbaric war and bring a just peace,” he said.
“While Ukrainian forces succeed in pushing back Russian forces on the ground, civilians are bombarded relentlessly from the air. We are providing new air defenses today, including anti-aircraft, radar and anti-drone equipment, and are stepping up humanitarian aid for the cold, harsh winter ahead.
“It is deeply humbling to be in Kiev today and have the opportunity to meet those who do so much and pay such a high price.”
The visit comes as Kiev and several other regions of Ukraine are grappling with power shortages following brutal Russian attacks on critical infrastructure.
On Saturday, the head of Ukraine’s largest private energy company urged Ukrainians to consider leaving their country to help save energy.
In an effort to force Ukraine to negotiate a peace that is unacceptable to Kiev, Moscow has sought to destroy the country’s energy system with a series of massive attacks on electricity and thermal infrastructure. No energy system has ever been subjected to such powerful air strikes as to threaten such long periods of blackout.
As temperatures dip below freezing and the first snow of the season dusts the streets of Kiev this week, people across Ukraine are beginning to worry about how to heat their homes due to blackouts caused by the Russian bombing, as officials struggle to restore power across the country.
In an interview with the BBC, Maxim Timchenko, CEO of the energy company DTEK, said Ukraine’s electricity system becomes less reliable with every Russian attack.
Timchenko suggested that reducing electricity consumption was key to keeping it going.
“If Ukrainians can find an alternative place to stay for another three or four months, it will help the system a lot,” he said, citing people who should see the country as a way to help win the war against Russia.
“If you consume less, hospitals with wounded soldiers have a guaranteed power supply,” Timchenko added. “It can be explained that by consuming less or going away, they also contribute something to other people.”
Zelenskiy said about 10 million people were without power and described the electricity situation in more than a dozen regions as “very difficult”.
“The power supply situation is difficult in 17 regions and in the capital,” he said. “It is very difficult in the Kiev region and the city of Kiev, the Odessa region and also Vinnytsia and Ternopil [areas in western Ukraine].”
Zelenskiy knows that the cold is one of the biggest obstacles in this war. He’s known for months. Even at the end of August he warned the population of “difficult times ahead”.
Two days ago, Zelenskiy was even clearer. “If we survive this winter, and we will, Ukraine will definitely win this war,” he said.
Fighting continues in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhia region as Russian forces unleash their arsenal, including drones, missiles, heavy artillery and warplanes that have killed at least six civilians and wounded six others, the Ukrainian president’s office said.
The death toll from a Russian missile attack on a residential building in the city of Vilniansk, Zaporizhia region, rose to 10 people on Thursday, including three children.
The prosecutor’s office of Ukraine said on Saturday that at least 437 Ukrainian children have been killed and more than 837 injured as a result of the Russian invasion.
The eastern Donetsk region was hardest hit, with 423 children killed or injured, the prosecutor’s office said.
Officials said the numbers were “not final” as they were still verifying information from zones of active fighting, liberated areas and territory still occupied by Russian forces.
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this report