Rishi Sunak made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday to meet Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his first visit to the country since taking office.
Zelensky posted a video on Saturday showing him meeting Sunak in the capital. “During 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 No 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister is in Ukraine today for his first visit to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky and confirm continued UK support.”
Following in the footsteps of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Sunak has pledged that UK support for Ukraine in the fight against Russia will remain steadfast.
The prime minister, 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.
Sunak’s arrival was accompanied by the announcement of a £50m package of defense aid comprising 125 anti-aircraft guns and technology to help Ukraine counter Iranian-supplied drones, including radars and anti-drone technology.
Sunak laid flowers at a memorial for the war dead in Kyiv and lit a candle at a memorial for victims of the Holodomor famine, before meeting emergency personnel at a fire station.
He said it was “deeply humbling” to be in Kyiv. “I am here today to say the UK and our allies will continue to stand with Ukraine, as it fights to end this barbaric war and deliver a just peace,” he said.
“While Ukraine’s armed forces succeed in pushing back Russian forces on the ground, civilians are being brutally bombarded from the air. We are today providing new air defense, including anti-aircraft guns, radar and anti-drone equipment, and stepping up humanitarian support for the cold, hard winter ahead.
“It is deeply humbling to be in Kyiv today and to have the opportunity to meet those who are doing so much, and paying so high a price.”
The visit comes as Kyiv and several other regions of Ukraine grapple with power shortages after relentless Russian attacks on critical infrastructure.
On Saturday, the head of Ukraine’s biggest private energy firm urged Ukrainians to consider leaving their country to help save energy.
Moscow, in an attempt to force Ukraine to negotiate a peace that is unacceptable to Kyiv, has sought to destroy the country’s energy system with a series of mass strikes on power and thermal infrastructures. No energy system has ever been subjected to such powerful airstrikes as to threaten such long periods of blackout.
As temperatures fall below freezing and the first snow of the season dusts the streets of Kyiv this week, people across Ukraine are starting to worry about how to heat their homes due to blackouts caused by the Russian bombing while officials struggle to restore power nationwide.
In an interview with the BBC, Maxim Timchenko, chief executive of the energy firm DTEK, said Ukraine’s electricity system becomes less reliable with each Russian attack.
Timchenko suggested that reducing electricity consumption was the key to keeping it running.
“If Ukrainians can find an alternative place to stay for another three or four months, it will be very helpful to the system,” he said, citing people should see leaving the country as a way of helping win the war against Russia.
“If you consume less, then hospitals with injured soldiers will have guaranteed power supply,” Timchenko added. “This is how it can be explained that by consuming less or leaving, they also contribute to other people.”
Zelensky said about 10 million people were without power, describing the electricity situation in more than a dozen regions as “very difficult”.
“The situation with power supplies is difficult in 17 regions and in the capital,” he said. “Things are very difficult in Kyiv region and the city of Kyiv, Odesa region and also Vinnytsia and Ternopil [areas in western Ukraine].”
Zelensky knows that the cold is one of the biggest obstacles in this war. He has known it for months. Even at the end of August, he was warning the population about “hard times ahead”.
Two days ago, Zelensky was even clearer. “If we survive this winter, and we will, Ukraine will definitely win this war,” he said.
Fighting is still raging in Ukraine’s south-eastern region of Zaporizhzhia, as Russian forces unleashed the breadth of their arsenal, including drones, rockets, heavy artillery and warplanes that killed at least six civilians and wounded six others, the Ukrainian president’s office said.
The death toll from a Russian rocket attack on a residential building in the city of Vilniansk, Zaporizhzhia region, on Thursday climbed to 10 people, including three children.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said at least 437 Ukrainian children had been killed and more than 837 were injured as a result of Russia’s invasion.
The eastern Donetsk region was the most affected, with 423 children killed or injured, the prosecutor’s office said.
Officials said the figures 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