Ukraine-Russia: Kyiv is 'right place to be' says British ambassador, as she returns to Ukraine

The UK's ambassador to Ukraine has returned to Kyiv and says she feels comfortable working there, although she has "heightened security".

Melinda Simmons left Kyiv in late February, but stayed in Ukraine for slightly longer before returning to the UK. Boris Johnson said last week the embassy would soon be reopening, following in the footsteps of a number of western countries which have recently reopened their diplomatic hubs in Ukraine.

The ambassador’s return comes as the United Nations said a long-awaited effort to evacuate people from a steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol was under way.

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UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu said that the operation to bring people out of the plant, where it was believed 1,000 civilians were hiding with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, was being done with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in co-ordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

Residents walk in the city of Mariupol as the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) servicemen guard an area earlier this week, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

Zaporizhzhia, a city about 141 miles northwest of Mariupol, is the expected destination of the evacuation effort. The UN said the convoy to evacuate civilians started on Friday, travelling some 140 miles before reaching the plant in Mariupol on Saturday morning.

Ambassador Ms Simmons said despite her return, the embassy had not yet reopened and they were not running a consular service. UK nationals are still advised not to travel to Ukraine.

She said in an interview with The Observer that as she drove into the city on Friday she got "a real sense of what was going on... and it's truly shocking".

"But what is equally extraordinary is to see how Ukraine kept Russia out of Kyiv,” she said. “Every way in which Ukraine has been able to do that is a thing to celebrate and to treasure.

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"I am here with a heightened level of security protection and bearing in mind that potential risk, but for now I feel comfortable working under those circumstances."

Ms Simmons added: "I wasn't sure I'd make it back to Kyiv, so coming back is an extraordinary thing. It absolutely feels like the right place to be."

Travelling into Kyiv, she commented on passing vehicles which were presumably evacuating civilians.

Ms Simmons wrote on Twitter: “On my travel to Kyiv I passed several vehicles going the other way, with this sign ‘children’ on the window – a reminder if one were needed of the sickeningly high price children are being forced to pay for the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.”

She added: “It was a long drive, but worth going the distance. [It’s] so good to be in Kyiv again.”

In a call on Saturday afternoon, Mr Johnson offered Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky the UK's "continued economic and humanitarian support", a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Mr Johnson is said to have told the Ukrainian president he is "more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine and ensuring [Vladimir] Putin fails".

Following the call between Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky, a Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister spoke to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky today, as part of their regular dialogue.

"President Zelensky updated on the fierce fighting in Eastern Ukraine and ongoing siege of Mariupol. He set out the equipment needed for the defence of Ukraine.

"The Prime Minister reiterated that he is more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine and ensuring Putin fails, noting how hard the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom.

"He confirmed that the UK will continue to provide additional military aid to give the Ukrainians the equipment they needed to defend themselves.

"The leaders also discussed progress of the UN-led effort to evacuate Mariupol and concern for the injured there. The Prime Minister offered the UK's continued economic and humanitarian support.

"The Prime Minister and President Zelensky agreed to remain in close contact on next steps, in co-ordination with international allies and partners."

President Zelensky tweeted: "I keep in touch with @BorisJohnson. Spoke about the situation on the battlefield and in the blocked Mariupol.

"Discussed defensive support for Ukraine and the necessary diplomatic efforts to achieve peace."

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office is investigating reports that a British national has been detained by Russia after a video emerged showing a man in camouflage clothes being questioned.

In the video, reportedly shown on Russian television, the man appears to give his name as Andrew Hill.

He speaks with an English accent, has his arm in a sling, a bandage around his head, and blood can be seen on his hand.

The video, which has not been verified, has been shared online.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is investigating the reports and also supporting family members.

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