On 8 February, Parliament was honoured by the surprise visit of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. Making only his second international trip from Ukraine since the Russian invasion a year ago, he arrived in London, visiting The King and the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as well as addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. I’ve attended similar occasions in the past, notably for the visits of President Barrack Obama of the United States and Pope Benedict XVI. Those were formal and spectacular occasions, with Westminster Hall neatly set out with hundreds of chairs, and special seating arranged for the Cabinet and the visiting dignitaries. On this occasion, the immediacy of the event meant that we stood to hear President Zelenskiy, and that Hall was filled by over one thousand people who came to hear his words.
Zelenskiy appeared dressed in the simple military green, army training kit, of the style that he was worn throughout the war with Russia. On 24 February last year, he was given a choice, to stay and fight in a war everyone thought would be lost in days, or to leave and escape being overrun by the invading forces of Vladimir Putin. In response to offers of safe transit, he is famously supposed to have said, ‘I don’t need a ride, I need more ammunition.’ His decision to stay and that the Ukrainian people to fight has led to a year of heroic military resistance and the Russians slowly being driven back from the lands they have sought to conquer. The President’s message to parliament this week was simple, that the fight goes on until victory is achieved, and in order to make this possible he needs military planes, and anti-aircraft defence systems in order to stop the Russians establishing air supremacy in eastern Ukraine.
The UK has been behind the war effort in Ukraine since the start. In his speech the President thanked the British people for that support and referenced in particular the training for the Ukrainian army in this country. I have previously visited the training programme being run by the British army at Lydd Ranges in our district, and it is a moving sight to see those men, aged from late teens to mid-fifties, preparing to be deployed on the front line when they return home. Rishi Sunak has also pledged further equipment for Ukraine, including British Challenger tanks, and the government is investigating sending combat jets for use by the Ukrainian air force.
The war in Ukraine is the struggle not just for the independence of a nation, but for the right of free people to choose their form of government and the friends and alliances that they wish to join in with. Were they to lose, and I do not believe for one moment that they will, it would send a signal that other corrupt, bully nations can take what they want with little or no response from the world’s democracies. In such a scenario we would all be the losers.