How Volodymyr Zelenskiy spent his day in Britain

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made a surprise visit to the UK on Wednesday – his first visit since the Russian invasion – as he sought to drum up western support. Here is how he spent the day:

Arrival at London Stansted

Zelenskiy touched down at the airport in a Royal Air Force plane on Wednesday morning, dressed in his usual military fatigues, shortly after Downing Street made the surprise announcement that he was to come to the UK. It was only the Ukrainian president’s second overseas visit since the Russian invasion nearly a year ago.

He was embraced by the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who promised him extra military aid as part of what Downing Street called a two-pronged approach to UK support for Ukraine, before the two men drove away in a police-escorted convoy.

Meeting with Sunak

British officials said the promised support would start with an “immediate surge of military equipment” and a proposal to “bolster the UK’s training offer for Ukrainian troops, including expanding it to fighter jet pilots” to help them fly Nato-standard jets. Downing Street said Sunak also intended to offer to start an immediate training programme for marines.

Sunak said he and Zelenskiy had “lots to discuss” as he welcomed the Ukrainian president to Downing Street. Standing in front of the UK and Ukrainian flags in No 10’s White Room, the two leaders shook hands in front of the cameras before their private talks.

Zelenskiy said it was a “great honour” to be visiting the UK as he thanked Britain for its “big support from the first days of full-scale invasion”. Before that, he and Sunak were seen chatting as they walked from their car to No 10. The pair then shook hands at the front door and waved to the cameras.

Addressing parliament

Zelenskiy used his address in Westminster Hall, witnessed by MPs including Sunak and the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, to thank the UK after the offer of extra military help, including the offer to train pilots to operate modern war planes.

Zelenskiy addresses parliamentarians in Westminster Hall.
Zelenskiy addresses parliamentarians in Westminster Hall. Photograph: Reuters

But the Ukrainian president also urged the UK and other western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with the advanced jets for those pilots to fly.

Opening the proceedings, the Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, told Zelenskiy: “This hall has been the place of many great historical events. Your presence here today adds another to them.”

Zelenskiy said he had come to the UK “on behalf of every father and every mother who are waiting for their brave sons and brave daughters back home from the war”.

He presented Hoyle with a Ukrainian pilot’s helmet that bore the words: “We have freedom, gives us wings to protect it.”

Closing his speech, he told MPs: “Leaving the British parliament two years ago, I thanked you for delicious English tea. And I will be leaving the parliament today thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes.”

Meeting the king

Zelensky is greeted by Lt Col Johnny Thompson, equerry to King Charles III, as he arrives at Buckingham Palace.
Zelensky is greeted by Lt Col Johnny Thompson, equerry to King Charles III, as he arrives at Buckingham Palace. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

The head of the Ukrainian state was also given a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet his closest equivalent in the UK, King Charles III. He called the occasion – the first meeting between the two men – an “honour”. He added: “It will be a truly special moment for me, for our country, and in particular because I will convey to him from all the Ukrainians the words of gratitude for the support His Majesty showed to them when he was still the Prince of Wales.”

When he arrived, Zelenskiy was greeted at the King’s Door, first by the king’s equerry, Lt Col Johnny Thompson. Thompson, dressed in his military uniform with kilt, shook hands with Zelenskiy before introducing him to Sir Clive Alderton, the principal private secretary to the king and queen consort. They shook hands, before the president was welcomed into Buckingham Palace.

Meets Ukrainian forces

Ukrainian personnel have been training on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, and Zelenskiy used his visit as an opportunity to review his troops.

He and Sunak arrived at Lulworth Camp, in Dorset, by helicopter shortly before 5pm. He presented medals to some of his troops and, along with the prime minister, was shown a device that simulates the operation of a Challenger 2 tank, with which Ukraine is being equipped.

Sunak told the assembled Ukrainian troops: “It is a privilege for us to have all of you here and your courage is inspiring to us and the courage of your families is inspiring to us. We will be there until the end and you are victorious.”

Speaking at a press conference afterwards, Sunak said Challenger 2 tanks would be engaged within a month.

Heads to Paris

After his day in the UK, Zelenskiy flew from London to Paris to meet with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz. He was greeted in the French capital by Sébastien Lecornu, France’s minister of armed forces.