Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls for 'wings for freedom' in historic parliament address

The importance of political events are often overplayed, but sometimes moments occur so genuinely moving and important as to be etched in history.

Wednesday delivered one of those pivotal points, as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed MPs while making his first visit to the UK since the war with Russia began.

In a historic address, Mr Zelensky used his speech to emphasise his country still needed further support, warning “evil” remained present in Ukraine.

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The Ukrainian leader repeatedly thanked the UK for its support so far, but made abundantly clear it was air support his country needed, once again repeating his appeal for fighter jets. Addressing MPs and peers in the ancient Westminster Hall, Mr Zelensky urged UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with advanced jets.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses parliamentarians in Westminster Hall, London, during his first visit to the UK since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses parliamentarians in Westminster Hall, London, during his first visit to the UK since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses parliamentarians in Westminster Hall, London, during his first visit to the UK since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The former actor explained he wanted a coalition of nations to supply planes, and thanked the UK in advance, in a clear sign he sees this as the next step in winning the war.

Mr Zelensky said: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words – combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom. Thank you for your attention, thank you for your support. And leaving 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.”

To emphasise this further, he presented a Ukrainian fighter ace’s helmet to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Mr Zelensky was wearing his usual outfit of trademark khaki green military fatigues throughout his visit, including when he later enjoyed an audience with King Charles III.

The King told his guest “we’ve all been worried about you and thinking about your country for so long” as the pair met for the first time at a landmark audience in Buckingham Palace.

Earlier, Mr Sunak announced plans to train Ukrainian pilots, paving the way for them eventually being able to fly sophisticated Nato-standard jets, but that is seen as a long-term ambition. The expansion of the UK’s training programme to include jet fighter pilots is significant given Mr Zelensky’s call for Western planes.

The UK has so far refused, arguing the RAF’s F-35 and Typhoon jets take too long for pilots to train on.

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But the announcement by No 10 signals a shift. Officials said “as part of that long-term capability investment” the UK would work with Ukraine and international allies “to co-ordinate collective support to meet Ukraine’s defensive needs”.

It is part of a two-pronged strategy, offering military kit now to fend off a Russian spring offensive while also preparing Ukraine’s forces for the longer term.

Ukrainian troops are already being trained in the use of Challenger 2 tanks, which are expected to be sent to the country next month. Mr Sunak will also offer longer-range firepower to help counter Russia’s ability to strike at Ukraine’s towns and energy facilities.

The Prime Minister said: “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.”

However, after the speech, there appeared to be a change in tone from Downing Street. A spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has tasked the defence secretary with investigating what jets we might be able to give – but to be clear, this is a long-term solution."

On tanks, the spokesman added: “We’re always seeking to provide everything possible and the provision of Challenger 2 tanks shouldn’t be seen in isolation, it comes on top of additional support in terms of longer-range guns, longer-range capabilities.”

During Mr Zelensky’s speech, there was also a special mention for former prime minister Boris Johnson, whom he thanked for the support shown from the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

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The Ukrainian president 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. Boris, you got others united when it seemed absolutely impossible. Thank you.”

Making a statement after the speech, Mr Johnson backed his calls for fighter jets, urging Downing Street to do more.

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP, who struck up a close relationship with Mr Zelensky while he was in No 10, said: “It is time to give the Ukrainians the extra equipment they need to defeat [Russian president Vladimir] Putin and to restore peace to Ukraine.

“That means longer range missiles and artillery. It means more tanks. It means planes. We have more than 100 Typhoon jets. We have more than 100 Challenger 2 tanks.

“The best single use for any of these items is to deploy them now for the protection of the Ukrainians – not least because that is how we guarantee our own long-term security.”

Mr Johnson said supplying the weapons now would help make the world safer by stopping Mr Putin’s forces.

Watching the speech, parliamentarians were visibly emotional, interrupting to applaud constantly, hearing a speech clearly emphasising while the aid was welcomed, more sanctions and equipment were needed.

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He said: “The people of the United Kingdom and their honourable representatives, all the people of England and Scotland, of Wales and Northern Ireland, of all the lands which have been home to brave souls since Europe came into existence.

“I have come here and stand before you on behalf of the brave, on behalf of our war heroes who are now in the trenches under enemy artillery fire, on behalf of our air gunners, and every defender of the sky who protects Ukraine against enemy aircraft and missiles, on behalf of our tank men who fight to restore our Ukrainian borders, on behalf of our conscripts who are being trained now including here in Britain.

“Thank you, Britain.”

It came as the UK announced a fresh package of sanctions on Russian firms and allies of Mr Putin to coincide with Mr Zelensky’s surprise visit. CST, a manufacturer of Russian drones, and RT-Komplekt, which produces parts for helicopters used in the war against Ukraine, are among the entities sanctioned.

Five individuals linked to Mr Putin’s luxury residences, including presidential commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights Boris Titov, and Aerostart owner Viktor Myachin, were also hit with travel bans and asset freezes.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail.”

Calling for further sanctions, the Ukrainian president said Britain provided “preventive” support for Ukraine before the invasion “exactly as it will be necessary every time in the future to prevent aggression from happening”.

Bringing up his previous visit, before the war, and seeing the Winston Churchill war rooms, the Ukrainian leader appeared to be seeking to draw comparisons between the two conflicts, stressing the historical significance what MPs do now could have.

Mr Zelensky has repeatedly called for more help in the skies, as well as with ground forces, and will hope the call to arms can encourage help from Britain, prompting other countries to follow.



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