Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to the UK on Wednesday, sweeping in to London on the first stage of an unannounced diplomatic tour of European capitals with a powerful message for British lawmakers.
In only his second foreign trip since the Russian invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, Zelensky gave a speech to the joint houses of the British parliament that deftly stroked the national ego at the same as making a direct plea for more heavy weaponry, including fighter jets.
“London has stood with Kyiv since day one,” he said. “Since the first seconds and minutes of the full-scale war. Great Britain, you extended your helping hand when the world had not yet come to understand how to react.”
In a poignant but carefully crafted move, Zelensky handed the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot, signed with the message: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
Zelensky’s message was directed firmly at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of the Cabinet standing in front of him in the historic surroundings of Westminster Hall – the oldest part of of the Palace of Westminster, where the late Queen Elizabeth lay in state and where US President Obama stood for a similar address in 2011.
He thanked the British leader – “Rishi” – who had earlier announced that the UK would begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets. He also name-checked former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an early and steadfast supporter. “Boris, you got others united when it seemed absolutely, absolutely impossible,” Zelensky said. “Thank you.” Then, addressing the wider audience, he said: “You, all of you, you all showed your grit and character back then. Strong British character.”
Zelensky touched down