Kyiv (Reuters) – Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise trip to Kyiv on Sunday, met President Volodymyr Zelensky and pledged that Britain would “stay with Ukraine as long as it needs it”.
Johnson, who left office in September in the wake of a series of scandals, was prime minister when Russia invaded Ukraine last February and sought to put London ahead of Kyiv’s ally in the West.
During his trip, Johnson visited Borodinka and Bucha, suburbs of the Ukrainian capital that became synonymous with atrocities in the West when Russian forces headed toward Kyiv in the first phase of the invasion before being repulsed.
“I can tell you the UK will stick with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Johnson told Mayor Bucha.
He said speaking through an interpreter.
Johnson dismissed suggestions that his activity in Ukraine could be seen as undermining British Prime Minister Rosny Sunak.
While in office, Johnson visited Kyiv several times and contacted Zelensky frequently.
When he became embroiled in scandals in Britain, he gained wide popularity in Ukraine where he became known affectionately as “Boris Johnsonuk”. Cakes are named after him in cafés in Kyiv and street art has been produced using his image.
In Bucha, Johnson took selfies with residents and laid flowers in honor of war victims. He visited a church to see an exhibition and signed the Ukrainian version of his book on Winston Churchill for a priest.
In Borodinka, he walked the streets next to the destroyed residential blocks. Accompanying him, the governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said 162 residents were killed during the month-long Russian occupation of the town last year. Since then, about 60% of the population has returned, Kuleba said.
In Kyiv, Zelensky personally welcomed Johnson and lines of senior officials including the foreign minister and chief of the president’s office lined up on a square near the presidential administration in the heart of the city.
Britain said last week that it would supply Ukraine with 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other heavy weapons.
Additional reporting by Yuriy Kovalenko and Vyacheslav Ratynsky, by Olena Harmash; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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