The UK and the EU have pledged more financial support to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia and rebuild after the conflict, as British prime minister Boris Johnson met Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
On a previously unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital on Saturday, Johnson said Zelensky had achieved “the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century” by resisting Russian forces and praised Ukraine for “defying the odds”.
He said the UK would send Ukraine 120 armoured vehicles, anti-ship missile systems and provide further economic support, and accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of war crimes in the Ukrainian territories that Moscow’s troops had overrun.
Speaking in Kyiv, which was almost surrounded by Russian troops just weeks ago, Johnson said it was clear that Putin “has suffered a defeat but his retreat is tactical and he is going to intensify the pressure now in Donbas and in the east”.
Ukraine’s military has warned that Russian troops are regrouping and preparing an eastern offensive. Ukraine’s authorities have urged civilians in the Donbas region and around the city of Kharkiv to evacuate.
After their meeting, Zelensky called Johnson “one of the most principled opponents of the Russian invasion, a leader in sanctions pressure on Russia and defence support of Ukraine”.
The trip and announcement came days after the Ukrainian president pleaded with the international community to provide more military supplies and to impose tighter sanctions on Russia as his foreign minister said he had one demand of Nato: “Weapons, weapons and weapons.”
Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a tweet that Johnson was “the first G7 leader to arrive in Ukraine since the beginning of the large-scale war”.
Johnson said the UK would more than double its loan guarantee to Ukraine through the World Bank to $1bn, subject to parliamentary approval, and liberalise tariffs on the vast majority of goods from the country and ease customs checks.
The support is in addition to the £100mn of military equipment announced by the UK on Friday, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, body armour and helmets for Ukrainian forces.
“We are stepping up our own military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation,” he said.
Hours earlier, also in Kyiv, Zelensky met Austria’s chancellor Karl Nehammer to discuss what the Ukrainian president called Vienna’s “full support for Ukraine’s future membership in the family of the European Union” and “a strong sanctions policy against Russia”.
Meanwhile, the European Commission pledged €1bn to a €9.1bn fund to support Ukraine and other states hosting refugees from the war.
The additional financial support from Brussels is part of an international fundraising effort that has attracted €4.1bn in contributions from governments, companies and individuals, and €5bn in loans and grants from European public financial institutions.
The commission said it would provide €600mn to support internally displaced people in Ukraine, and €400mn to frontline states hosting Ukrainian refugees.
“And more will come,” Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, said. “Once the bombs have stopped falling, we will help the people of Ukraine rebuild their country.”
Nearly 4.5mn people have fled Ukraine since the conflict started, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, of which more than 2.5mn are in Poland. A further 7.1mn have been internally displaced.
On Friday, the IMF announced that it had opened an account to channel funds from donors to Ukraine, as nations opposed to Russia’s invasion seek to exert further pressure on Moscow.
The account will receive grants and loans “aimed at assisting Ukraine to meet its balance of payments and budgetary needs and help stabilise its economy”, the IMF said.