ITV News is reporting that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked Britain for its support of Ukraine in its war against Russia, delivering a rousing address to Parliament during his first UK visit since the invasion.
The Ukrainian leader poured praise on the UK for its continued support, saying “the world needs your leadership Britain, just as it needs Ukrainian bravery”.
He said: “London has stood with Kyiv since day one, from 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.”
Mr Zelenskyy also used his speech to issue another plea for fighter jets from the West, ending his speech by asking for “powerful English planes”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them to eventually be able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets – signalling a change in policy could be coming.
In a powerful, symbolic gesture, the Ukrainian president gifted House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle with the helmet of a fighter pilot, on which were written the words: “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it.”
He also personally thanked previous prime minister Boris Johnson for his support when the war first began.
Mr Zelenskyy thanked Britain for its “big support from the first days of full-scale invasion” after being welcomed to Downing Street by Mr Sunak.
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 ahead of their private talks, with Mr Sunak saying the pair had lots to discuss.
The visit will involve a meeting in Buckingham Palace with King Charles, a summit in Downing Street with Mr Sunak, a speech in Parliament, and a meeting with Ukrainian troops being trained by the British armed forces.
The government said the training will “ensure Ukraine can defend its skies well into the future”.
Britain is one of the biggest military backers of Ukraine and has sent the country more than £2 billion in weapons and equipment.
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.
Mr Zelenskyy’s visit is only his second known trip outside of Ukraine since Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded, with the first being a summit in the US.
His first address to the UK Parliament was a virtual one, in March last year, in which he echoed Winston Churchill’s famous “never surrender” speech, vowing that Ukrainians “will fight till the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost”.
The PM said: “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.
“Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Sunak visited Ukraine recently in November, with Mr Zelenskyy praising a “meaningful and useful visit for both our countries”.
“With friends like you by our side, we are confident in our victory,” he added on Twitter.
The UK is also set to announce new sanctions targeting those who have helped Vladimir Putin build his personal wealth and firms which have profited from the war.
Mr Zelenskyy has been pleading with western nations to send fighter jets for some time, however there has been concern that they could be used to launch attacks on Russian soil and further provoke Putin.
But the announcement by No 10 signals a shift for the future, and officials said that “as part of that long-term capability investment” the UK will work with Ukraine and international allies “to co-ordinate collective support to meet Ukraine’s defensive needs”.
Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month.
Sunak will also offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy facilities.