KYIV – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has arrived in Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in what Downing Street calls a “show of solidarity” as fears grow over a possible renewed Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Johnson’s office said April 9 that the prime minister was meeting with Zelenskiy “as a sign of solidarity with the people of Ukraine” and that “they will discuss the UK’s long-term support for Ukraine and the prime minister will establish a new package of financial measures and military aid.”
Johnson’s unannounced trip to Ukraine is the most high-profile visit in a recent spate of arrivals by European officials and leaders following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the region around the capital.
Also on April 9, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met Zelenskiy in Kyiv, while the day before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrived in the Ukrainian capital. .
Andriy Sybiha, assistant to the President of Ukraine, posted a photo on Facebook of the two leaders seated next to each other, Johnson wearing a dark suit and Zelenskiy in his traditional khaki jumpsuit.
“Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv began with a one-on-one meeting with President Zelenskiy,” Sybiha wrote.
“Britain is a leader in defense support for Ukraine. Leader of the anti-war coalition. Leader of sanctions against Russian aggressor.”
Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the major developments on the invasion of Russia, how kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and the Western reaction. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
Johnson has taken a hard line against Russia since its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and after reports of potential war crimes in deadly attacks on civilians by Moscow forces.
Russian forces faced stronger than expected resistance from Ukrainian forces and civilians, forcing them to withdraw from the Kyiv area.
Experts say Moscow plans to focus its attack on eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where Russia or Kremlin-backed forces have held Ukrainian territory since 2014.
On April 9, Luhansk region governor Serhiy Hayday said more people needed to be evacuated from the eastern region as shelling has increased in recent days and more Russian forces have arrived.
He said about 30% of residents still remained in towns and villages in the region and had been told to evacuate.
“They [Russia] gather forces for an offensive and we see that the number of bombings has increased,” Hayday told Ukrainian television.
The United States said this week that Moscow was likely planning to deploy tens of thousands of troops to eastern Ukraine.
Russia was focusing its offensive, which included cruise missiles launched by its naval forces, on the eastern Donbass region, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a daily briefing on April 9.
He said he expected air attacks to increase in the south and east as Russia seeks to establish a land bridge between Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and Donbass, but the Ukrainian forces thwarted the advance.
Ukrainian officials said shelling had increased in the area in recent days as more Russian forces arrived.
“The occupiers continue to prepare the offensive in the east of our country in order to establish full control over the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said on April 9.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on April 9 that 10 humanitarian corridors had been agreed for the evacuation of people across the country, including for people to leave the besieged port of Mariupol by private transport.
Meanwhile, Zelenskiy demanded a tough global response to Russia after his forces fired a missile at a crowded train station, killing at least 52 people.
In his late night address on April 8, Zelenskiy said the strike at Kramatorsk train station, where 4,000 people were trying to flee an impending Russian offensive in the east, was another war crime.
Russia denied being responsible for the strike. Among those killed were five children and dozens of people were seriously injured.
Photos taken after the attack showed dead bodies covered in tarpaulins and the remains of a rocket painted with the words “for children” in Russian.
World leaders condemned the attack.
US President Joe Biden reacted Twittercalling it “yet another gruesome atrocity by Russia, beating civilians trying to evacuate and get to safety”.
The French government called it a “crime against humanity” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as “unacceptable”.
Railway evacuations from Kramatorsk have been suspended due to the attack, Ukrainian National Railways announced on April 9, adding that evacuations from Donetsk and Luhansk regions Continue from Slovyansk, Pokrovsk and Novozolotarivka stations.