South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, offering support to the country while demonstrating his own nation's cooperation with NATO.
Yoon’s office said he travelled to Ukraine with his wife, Kim Keon Hee, following trips to Lithuania for a NATO summit and to Poland. It’s his first visit since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Yoon toured Bucha and Irpin, two small cities near Kyiv where bodies of civilians were found in the streets and mass graves after Russian troops retreated from the capital region last year. He laid flowers at a monument to the country's war dead before he sat down for a summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
South Korea, a key US ally in Asia, joined international sanctions against Russia and has provided Ukraine with humanitarian and financial support to Ukraine. But the Asian nation, a growing arms exporter, hasn't provided weapons to Ukraine in line with its long-standing policy of not supplying arms to countries actively engaged in conflict.
During a joint news conference with Zelenskyy later Saturday, Yoon announced plans to expand support shipments to Ukraine but didn't touch upon weapons supplies.
Yoon began his statement with a mention of the UN forces’ support of South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War which helped repel a North Korean invasion.
“The current situation facing Ukraine reminds us of the past situation of the Republic of Korea," Yoon said.
Zelenskyy thanked Seoul for its “firm support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and the “significant political, security, economic and humanitarian aid” it has supplied since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Yoon said that South Korea will increase the shipments of nonlethal military items such as body armour and helmets this year. He said that South Korea will also provide humanitarian aid worth $150 million [€133 million] this year, up from $100 million [€89 million] last year. He said that South Korea has also sent the de-mining equipment and other aid items that had been requested by Ukraine.
Wagner mercenaries enter Belarus
The visit comes as a large convoy carrying fighters from the Wagner mercenary group was spotted entering Belarus from Russia, a monitoring group reported after the country's Defense Ministry said it planned for the mercenaries and Minsk's own armed forces to conduct joint military drills.
The independent monitoring group Belaruski Hajun, which tracks the movements of armed forces in Belarus, said at least 60 trucks, buses and other large vehicles crossed into the eastern European country accompanied by Belarusian police.
The group did not immediately provide photos or videos of the vehicles but said they had license plates from Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, where Wagner mercenaries fought alongside Russian troops until a short-lived mutiny last month.
The convoy headed toward a military base outside Osipovichi, a town 230 kilometres north of the Ukrainian border.