'Freedom will win': Zelenskyy tells UK parliament after meeting with PM and King Charles

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, inside Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, inside Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Copyright AP
By Euronews
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President Zelenskyy had talks with Rish Sunak, met King Charles and gave a speech to British parliamentarians in Westminster.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed for fighter jets to ensure his country's victory over Russia in a dramatic speech before the British Parliament.

On only his second known visit outside of Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on 24 February last year -- and his first trip to the UK -- Zelenskyy also thanked the British people for their support since "Day One" of Moscow's invasion.

The Ukrainian leader's surprise visit to Britain in a bid for more advanced weapons comes as Ukraine braces for an expected Russian offensive and hatches its own plans to retake land held by Moscow's forces. Western support has been key to Kyiv's surprisingly stiff defense, and the two sides are engaged in grinding battles.

Zelenskyy arrived at Downing Street for talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, before giving a passionate speech to parliamentarians at Westminster, and meeting King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. 

Sunak and Zelenskyy were also due to visit Ukrainian troops being trained on the Challenger 2 tanks that Britain is sending as part of the hundreds that Kyiv says it needs.

Hundreds of lawmakers and parliamentary staff packed the 900-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest -- and, on a cold winter day, unheated -- part of Parliament for Zelenskyy’s speech.

Zelenskyy, wearing his trademark olive drab sweatshirt, urged allies to send his country jets, saying combat aircraft would be “wings for freedom.”

In a pointed and dramatic gesture, Zelenskyy presented the speaker of the House of Commons with a Ukrainian air force helmet, inscribed by a Ukrainian pilot: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”

Stefan Rousseau/WPA Rota
Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, left, holds the helmet of one of the most successful Ukrainian pilotsStefan Rousseau/WPA Rota

The president is trying to soften allies' reluctance to send advanced fighter jets, both because they are complex to fly and for fear of escalating the war.

The UK has repeatedly said it’s not practical to provide the Ukrainian military with British warplanes. But in a shift, the government said Wednesday it was “actively looking” at whether Ukraine could be sent Western jets, and was “in discussion with our allies” about it.

Britain announced it would train Ukrainian pilots in Britain on “NATO-standard fighter jets” starting within weeks.

Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the government was exploring “what jets we may be able to give” over the coming years, but had not made a decision on whether to send its F-35 or Typhoon jets.

“We think it is right to provide both short-term equipment … that can help win the war now, but also look to the medium to long term to make sure Ukraine has every possibility it requires,” he said.

Macron has said France doesn’t rule out sending fighter jets but set out conditions before such a step is taken, including not leading to an escalation of tensions or using the aircraft “to touch Russian soil,” and not resulting in weakening “the capacities of the French army.”

Aaron Chown/AP
Britain's King Charles III holds an audience with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, at Buckingham Palace, London, Wednesday Feb. 8, 2023.Aaron Chown/AP

Zelenskyy, who also met at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday with King Charles III, noted that the British monarch was a qualified military pilot.

“The king is an air force pilot,” Zekenskyy said, and “in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”

Zelenskyy was greeted with applause, cheers and cries of "Slava Ukraini" -- "Glory to Ukraine" -- as he arrived in Parliament, where Ukraine's cause has wide support from both the Conservative government and opposition parties.

Zelenskyy also expected to visit Paris and Brussels

The Ukrainian president is also due in Paris on Wednesday evening, for trilateral talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

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On Thursday, Zelenskyy is expected to visit Brussels as EU leaders gather for a summit. 

A senior EU official told Euronews that Zelenskyy's trip to the Belgian capital would likely start with an address to an extraordinary plenary session of the European Parliament.

He could then join EU leaders convening for a special summit to discuss migration, the bloc's response to the US Inflation reduction Act and support for Ukraine, including through a tenth round of sanctions against Russia. 

Zelenskyy has joined these summits virtually multiple times since the war started to update leaders on the situation on the ground, but hasn't so far attended in person. 

It would come a week after EU Commissioners headed to Kyiv for meetings with the Ukrainian government followed on Friday by an EU-Ukraine summit attended by Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.

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They said then that "there is an open invitation to President Zelenskyy to visit Brussels" to which the Ukrainian leader replied: "I really want to travel but there's a very significant risk because of Russia's attempt to have a revenge."

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