Volodymyr Zelenskyy has received a standing ovation and cheers from parliament as he called on the UK and the West to provide Ukraine with fighter jets during a surprise visit to London.
The Ukrainian president is the first foreign leader to address parliamentarians in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of parliament, since former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now in jail, in 2012.
Wearing his usual outfit of military fatigues, Mr Zelenskyy entered the famous hall, where the Queen’s coffin lay in state, to a standing ovation and cheers from MPs and peers.
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He said: “We will always come out on top of evil.
“We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose.”
He thanked “all the people of England and Scotland, of Wales and Northern Ireland” for their support, on behalf of “our fighters who are now in the trenches under enemy artillery fire”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak received a handful of mentions from his Ukrainian counterpart, especially as he thanked the PM for providing more equipment to his country.
After saying he will “have the honour” to meet King Charles, Mr Zelenskyy presented the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, with a signed helmet from “one of our most successful” Ukrainian Air Force pilots.
“He’s one of our kings,” he said.
“And the writing on the helmet reads: ‘We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it’.”
He added: “In Britain, the King is an air force pilot and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
Tea jokes and plea for planes
Mr Zelenskyy said he hoped the symbol of the helmet will help for their “next coalition of planes”.
He added: “I appeal to you, and the word is simple, and the most important words: Combat aircraft for Ukraine are wings for freedom.”
The Ukrainian president finished his speech by thanking parliamentarians for their support.
“And leaving British parliament two years ago, I thanked you for delicious English tea,” he said to laughter.
“And I will be leaving the parliament today thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes.
Zelenskyy’s powerful message to MPs achieved a rare feat
Westminster Hall has hosted some of the world’s most iconic political figures and today was no exception.
On the famous steps where Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela have previously stood, President Zelenskyy addressed an enraptured audience of MPs and Parliamentary staff.
For a man who has been thrust onto the world stage under the most horrifying circumstances he continues to conduct himself with strength, poise and a sense of humour.
He told the story of his first state visit to London in 2020, when he visited Buckingham Palace and Parliament and was invited to sit in a chair in Churchill’s war room.
Back then he said he could not put the feeling into words but now he knew it was “how bravery takes you through unimaginable hardship to victory”.
Later he joked that back then he was thankful for the “delicious English tea” he had been given, but that this time it was the “powerful English planes” for which he was most grateful.
The Ukrainian President went on to pay tribute to Britain for being the first to stand side by side with him and his people in the face of Russian aggression.
In particular he thanked Boris Johnson for rallying international allies when the conflict began almost a year ago, and Rishi Sunak for the ongoing military support, more of which has been announced today.
Looking ahead to his meeting with King Charles he said that the monarch was “a King who had been an air force pilot” and that in Ukraine “every air force pilot is a king”.
At that moment he presented Parliament’s Speaker Lindsay Hoyle with a gift – the helmet of one of Ukraine’s most successful fighter pilots, inscribed with an arresting phrase: “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it’”.
The address went on for no more than half an hour but it was undoubtedly a moment that will last in the minds of those present and beyond.
And its powerful message achieved that rare fete – uniting Westminster, in admiration for the Ukrainian President’s resilience and determination to support him to victory.
“God bless Great Britain and long, long live the King. Slava Ukraini.”
Mr Zelenskyy was then driven to Buckingham Palace to have a meeting with the King, who was seen dashing back from an appointment through Westminster.
Following the speech, Mr Sunak asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what jets the UK could give to Ukraine.
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UK doesn’t have fighter jets to offer Ukraine
By Prof Michael Clarke, defence and security analyst
Volodymyr Zelenskyy clearly wants to do what he can to get these jets from the UK as quickly as possible.
But he won’t be getting any jets from the UK because we don’t have any that we can offer.
The Eurofighter isn’t the right type, the Typhoon isn’t the right jet for him.
What he needs are Gripen fighters and F-16s, the American fighter, maybe Mirage fighters.
But what he will get from Britain, and get quite a lot of, is pilot training because we have very good simulation training. We could train up existing fighter pilots, those who are flying MiG-29s now in Ukraine could be trained on to American or other European or NATO fighters through simulation techniques within a matter of weeks – three or four weeks probably.
His demand for fighters is addressing the wrong country because we literally don’t have them to offer. However, his demand, in a way, is to the whole of the Western alliance.
Boris Johnson gets personal thanks
Former prime minister Boris Johnson, who has a close relationship with Mr Zelenskyy and has been one of Ukraine’s most vocal backers, was spotted in the crowd of politicians.
The Ukrainian leader singled out Mr Johnson, thanking him personally for extending “your helping hand when the world had not yet come to understand how to react”. They then shared a long handshake and brief chat as the Ukrainian left the hall.
Following the speech, Mr Johnson reiterated his calls for the UK to increase its support for Ukraine with longer-range missiles and artillery, as well as more tanks and Typhoon jets.
Mr Zelenskyy added to parliament that the UK “showed your grit and character” and the “strong British character” at the beginning of the war.
“You did not compromise your ideals and thus you didn’t compromise the spirit of this great alliance. Thank you very much,” he added.
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Winston Churchill’s war chair
He received one of many ovations after saying: “Do you have a feeling that the evil will crumble once again? I can see in your eyes now we think the same way as you do.
“We know freedom will win. We know. We know Russia will lose.
“And we really know the victory. The victory will change the world. And this will be a change that the world has long needed.”
Winston Churchill also got a mention as Mr Zelenskyy said two and a half years ago he came to London, when he had just been made president, and sat in Winston Churchill’s armchair “from which war orders were given” at the Churchill War Rooms.
“I certainly felt something, but it is only now that I know what the feeling was – and all Ukrainians know it perfectly well too,” he told parliamentarians.
“It is the feeling of how bravery takes you through the most unimaginable hardships to finally reward you with victory.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your bravery, from all of us.”
The unannounced visit was only Mr Zelenskyy’s second outside Ukraine since Russia invaded last February. He travelled to the United States just before Christmas and stopped off in Poland on the way back.
Moments after Mr Zelenskyy arrived, the UK imposed further sanctions on companies supplying equipment to Russia for the war and Russians connected to “nefarious financial networks”, helping the Kremlin elites maintain wealth and power.
Mr Sunak also announced an “immediate” surge of military equipment for Ukraine, an offer to train 20,000 more Ukrainian troops, plus training for fighter jet pilots so they can fly NATO-standard fighter jets, and a training programme for marines.