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Zelenskyy tells UK MPs Ukraine needs 'wings for freedom'

Published February 8, 2023last updated February 8, 2023

The Ukrainian president's appeal comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK will train Ukrainian pilots on "NATO-standard fighter jets.''

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle hold up a fighter pilot's helmet given to him by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he addressed parliamentarians in Westminster Hall
Zelenskyy presented UK Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle with a Ukrainian fighter pilot's helmetImage: Stefan Rousseau/AP/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited to UK on Wednesday in a bid to secure more advanced weapons as Kyiv braces for an expected Russian offensive.

In an address to parliament he urged British lawmakers to  supply his country with "combat aircraft."

"We ... will do everything possible and impossible to make the world provide us with modern planes to empower and protect pilots who will be protecting us," Zelenskyy told hundreds of lawmakers in Westminster Hall.

He presented House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle with a Ukranian fighter pilot's helmet inscribed with the words, "we have freedom, give us wings to protect it."

Zelenskyy said he hoped it would become a symbol of the next coalition providing fighter aircraft to Ukraine

"We know freedom will win, we know Russia will lose, and we really know that victory will change the world," Zelenskyy said to loud applause.

Zelenskyy: 'The UK is marching with us towards the most important victory of our lifeftime'

Royal audience after parliamentary address

It's only his second trip outside Ukraine since the  Russian invasion began in February last year. He visited the United States, with a stopover in Poland, in December. 

After giving his speech in the House of Commons, Zelenskyy moved on to Buckingham Palace for an audience with King Charles III. 

"This king is an air force pilot," Zelenskyy said, and "in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is king." 

Although Charles is probably better known for his years in the Royal Navy, where he also flew helicopters, he started his military career in the Royal Air Force, training as both a pilot and a parachutist.

King Charles III and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shaking hands during an audience at Buckingham Palace on February 8, 2023 in London, England.
Zelenskyy noted Charles' own history in military aircraftImage: Aaron Chown/Getty Images

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron planned to meet Zelenskyy in Paris on Wednesday evening after his visit to the UK. 

Britain to train Ukrainian pilots

Earlier Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared in parliament where he told lawmakers Britain would give Ukraine the support it needs "to ensure a decisive military victory on the battlefield this year".

Sunak met Zelenskyy at Stansted airport before they traveled together to 10 Downing Street in London for talks.

"President Zelenskyy's visit to the UK is a testament to his country's courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries," Sunak said in the statement ahead of their meeting.

The UK is one of Ukraine's biggest military backers and has sent the country more than £2 billion (€2.25 billion, $2.5 billion) in weapons and equipment.

The visit comes as Sunak announced that Britain would train Ukrainian pilots on "NATO-standard fighter jets.'' Ukraine has urged its allies to send jets.

More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have also been trained at bases in the UK, some on the Challenger 2 tanks that Britain is sending.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at Downing Street in London
It is the first visit to the UK by Zelenskyy since the war began nearly a year agoImage: Victoria Jones/PA via AP/picture alliance

"I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future," Sunak said in a statement.

"It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.''

The United States and Germany have ruled out supplying Ukraine with F-16s and the UK said it's not practical to provide the Ukrainian military with British warplanes.

However, the Baltic nations and Poland have given their backing to the idea of providing Kyiv with warplanes. 

"Ukraine needs fighter jets ... missiles, tanks. We need to act," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in late January. 

Ukraine: Where does military aid lead to?

'Immediate surge' of military equipment

There would be "an immediate surge of military equipment to the country to help counter Russia's spring offensive," Sunak's office said.

Kyiv expected Moscow to broaden its offensive with a big push as the February 24 first anniversary of the invasion approaches.

"They need to have something to show before their people, and have a major desire to do something big, as they see it, by this date," Ukraine's national security chief Oleksiy Danilov said.

Russian forces over the past day launched major shelling attacks on areas near the front line in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region.

Moscow aims to take full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that make up the Donbas, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

"How successful they'll be will depend on us," Danilov said.

lo, msh/es (AFP, AP, Reuters)