Johnson in Kyiv: UK is 'paying in energy bills for Putin's evils' while Ukrainians 'pay in blood'

There could not be a more poignant occasion than Independence Day on which to remind Ukrainians and the world what they've spent six months fighting and dying for, as John Irvine reports

Boris Johnson has said soaring energy bills are a necessary price for Brits to pay to resist Vladimir Putin's "evils", as he made what will likely be his final surprise visit to Kyiv as prime minister.

The outgoing PM's meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came on Ukraine’s Independence Day - marking 31 years since breaking from Russia’s rule after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Queen congratulated Ukrainians on more than three decades of independence and said she hoped the world can look forward to better times.

While pledging a further £54 million of military aid, including 2,000 drones to target Moscow's forces, Mr Johnson said the Russian president had "fatally underestimated" the price "the world was willing to pay to support Ukraine".

"If we're paying in our energy bills for the evils of Vladimir Putin, the people of Ukraine are paying in their blood," he told a press briefing in Kyiv on Wednesday.

The conflict, and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, have contributed to soaring global gas prices which have driven up household bills.

In a swipe at UK unions, Mr Johnson said Putin's war was leading to strikes driven by union bosses "who have the ruinous belief that the best way to tackle soaring energy prices is with ever higher wages, when that is simply to pour petrol on the flames".

'If Putin succeeds, it will be a green light to every autocrat in the world that borders can be changed by force'

Mr Johnson said Putin had been “insane” to launch the invasion and the resistance had been like “an indomitable Ukrainian boxer”.

The PM's third visit to Kyiv since Russia's invasion in February came amid mounting fears that Putin may ambush the national holiday and mark the six-month point in the war by intensifying its attacks.

Later in the evening, President Zelenskyy confirmed Russian missiles had struck a train station in the eastern Dnipro region, killing 15 people and injuring about 50 more. The casualties are expected to rise.

The attack came after Mr Zelenskyy had warned the Kremlin “may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” this week, as the war-torn country prepared to cautiously mark the day.

Mr Johnson stressed to his Ukrainian counterpart that although he will leave office on September 6 - the day after either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak is voted in as Tory leader - “the UK will continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends” and used his meeting with Mr Zelenskyy to set out a further package of military aid.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrives for State Flag Day celebrations in Kyiv. Credit: AP

In return for Mr Johnson's support - the European leader that has offered Ukraine the most during the war - President Zelenskyy honoured him with the Order of Liberty - the highest award that can be bestowed on foreign nationals.

In a series of tweets, the official UK in Ukraine Twitter account said: “On their 31st anniversary of Independence, Her Majesty The Queen congratulates Ukrainians."

They add that in the Queen's address to the President of Ukraine she said: ‘It gives me great pleasure to send Your Excellency and the people of Ukraine my warmest greetings on the celebration of your Independence Day.

‘In this most challenging year, I hope that today will be a time for the Ukrainian people, both in Ukraine and around the world, to celebrate their culture, history and identity. May we look to better times in the future."

The Queen has previously shown her support for Ukrainian citizens by donating to a charitable appeal.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) thanked her in March for making a “generous donation” towards its appeal, set up to help civilians affected by the conflict.

Over the weekend, Mr Zelenskyy declared plans to celebrate would go ahead - announcing the Ukraine flag would "fly where it rightfully should be" in disputed territories during the national holiday.

But the leader also warned that Russia may try to do "something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” this week, as he scaled back celebrations.

President Zelenskyy addressed his country yesterday stating that "we will put our hands up only once - when we will celebrate our victory." And as celebrations kick off in Ukraine, they will also take place across Europe with countries showing solidarity in their own way.

The national holiday celebrates Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and would typically be marked by parades.

Kyiv authorities banned mass gatherings in the capital on Thursday over fears of Russian missile attacks.

A number of departments including Number 10, the FCDO, the MoD, DfT and the Home Office mark Ukrainian Independence Day

A flower arch of Ukraine's national flower, sunflowers, was erected outside Number 10 to show the UK's support for the country.

President Joe Biden, marking the day by announcing significant new military aid to Ukraine, noted that the day was “bittersweet” for many Ukrainians, as they continue to suffer but take pride in withstanding Russia’s “relentless attacks.”The US also reinforced the sense of anxiety with a new security alert - asking American citizens to leave the country over fears that Russia will target civilian infrastructure.

The precautions follow Moscow's counterintelligence blaming Ukrainian spy services for the death of a leading Russian nationalist's daughter who was killed in a car bombing.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed 29-year-old Daria Dugina’s killing had been “prepared and perpetrated by the Ukrainian special services.”

In a statement, the FSB accused a Ukrainian citizen, Natalya Vovk, of perpetrating the killing and then fleeing from Russia to Estonia.

ITV News has been told by a Ukrainian military source that the country is not behind the attack.

Zelenskyy stands in front of lined up soldiers as he arrives for State Flag Day celebrations in Kyiv. Credit: AP

On Tuesday, Mr Zelenskyy stressed defiance rather than worry when he raised the national flag at a memorial one day ahead of the milestone.

“The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine will again fly where it rightfully should be - in all temporarily occupied cities and villages of Ukraine," he said.

That included the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

He added: "It is necessary to liberate Crimea from occupation. It will end where it had started.”

However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia is carrying out strikes with precision weapons against Ukrainian military targets, and “everything is done to avoid civilian casualties.”

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he has not seen “much of the waning that is alleged or reported” across the international community in terms of support for Ukraine.

He said: “There’s always a few disagreements about the levels of sanctions, but, fundamentally, the international community is united against what Putin is doing.”

Mr Wallace also rejected the idea of a blanket ban on visas for Russians but insisted “we can toughen up the conditions”.

He told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday: “I spoke to my intelligence chiefs this morning before coming on... Russia’s advance can be measured in metres per week, not miles.

“It is grinding in small parts of the country in an attempt to advance – completely opposite of the three-days special operation that it touted at the beginning of this, six months ago."

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But shelling around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in south-eastern Ukraine, is sharpening fears of a catastrophe.

Regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired on Marhanets and Nikopol, two towns less than seven miles from the power station.

The UN Security Council met on Tuesday to discuss the danger, and the UN nuclear agency renewed its request to assess safety and security at the plant if Ukraine and Russia agree.

Donetsk People's Republic's administration building damaged by shelling. Credit: AP

The UN is also concerned with the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited reports that Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine are planning to put Ukrainian POWs on trial, possibly in the coming days.

The Kremlin has denounced Ukrainian prisoners as Nazis, war criminals and terrorists, and several prisoners have been sentenced to death.

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Russian authorities reported four people were killed and nearly a dozen wounded in Ukrainian shelling of a separatist headquarters and other buildings.