‘Ukraine will be free,’ Boris Johnson tells country’s parliament


Boris Johnson has told the Ukrainian parliament that there should never be a peace settlement imposed against the will of the Ukrainian people, calling the fight to hold back Russian forces “Ukraine’s finest hour”.

The address came after a scramble by No 10 to prevent the timings of the assembly being released – after they were sent by Downing Street to journalists in a press release and then retracted.

A source said there had been urgent requests by the Ukrainians to prevent the timings being released, in order to protect the security around President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s movements.

Speaking as the first western leader to address members of the Verkhovna Rada since the start of the conflict, Johnson said: “It is precisely because of your valour, your courage, your sacrifice, that Ukrainians now control your own destiny.

“You are the masters of your fate, and no one can or should impose anything on Ukrainians. We in the UK will be guided by you and we are proud to be your friends.”

As members of the Rada waved union jack banners, Johnson said he had “one message for you today: Ukraine will win, Ukraine will be free”.

Johnson said the west should not put pressure on Ukraine for any settlement that involved relinquishing territory. “No outsider like me can speak lightly about how the conflict could be settled if only Ukraine would relinquish this or that piece or territory or we find some compromise for Vladimir Putin.

“We know what happens to the people left in the clutches of this invader. And we who are your friends must be humble about what happened in 2014, because Ukraine was invaded before for the first time, when Crimea was taken from Ukraine and the war in Donbas began.

“The truth is that we were too slow to grasp what was really happening and we collectively failed to impose the sanctions then that we should have put on Vladimir Putin. We cannot make the same mistake again.”

Johnson said the UK would make a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security: “We will carry on supplying Ukraine, alongside your other friends, with weapons, funding and humanitarian aid, until we have achieved our long-term goal, which must be so to fortify Ukraine that no one will ever dare to attack you again.”

Ahead of the speech, Johnson announced a £300m package of military aid including electronic warfare equipment, a counter-battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy and members of the Verkhovna Rada stand for Ukraine’s national anthem before the address by Boris Johnson. Photograph: Verkhovna Rada/PA

Johnson addressed the parliament after being introduced by its speaker. Zelenskiy said the UK and Ukraine were now “brothers and sisters” because of the UK’s friendship and support.

The UK prime minister said Russian soldiers “no longer have the excuse of not knowing what they are doing” and said those troops who remained “are committing war crimes, and their atrocities emerge wherever they are forced to retreat – as we’ve seen at Bucha, at Irpin at Hostomel and many other places”.

Johnson said he had refused to believe military advice that Ukraine’s army would fall within days of a Russian invasion. He said the intelligence he had received that Putin was planning an invasion had given him “a sense of horror but also of puzzlement”.

He said: “There were some who believed the Kremlin propaganda that Russian armour would be like an irresistible force going like a knife through butter, and that Kyiv would fall within days.

“Do you remember they said that? And people rang Volodymyr and offered him safe passage out of the country, and he said ‘No thanks’.”

Johnson paid tribute to Ukraine’s armed forces, which he said were outnumbered three to one. “They fought with the energy and courage of lions.

“You have exploded the myth of Putin’s invincibility and you have written one of the most glorious chapters in military history and in the life of your country. The so-called irresistible force of Putin’s war machine has broken on the immoveable object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country.

“This is Ukraine’s finest hour, that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.”

No 10 admitted there had been some issues around the security of the assembly which had necessitated a delay in broadcasting Johnson’s address.

“That was at the request of the Ukrainians, as you would expect. There were some security issues that needed to be taken into account, which is why it was on a delay,” Johnson’s spokesperson said.