Boris Johnson has made a second surprise visit to Kyiv for a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after pulling out of a major red wall conference in Doncaster at the last minute.
The prime minister was due to make a speech in front of Tory northern MPs, councillors and business leaders on Friday afternoon.
But he later confirmed he was absent from the Yorkshire conference to make his second visit to Ukraine since the start of the war, tweeting: “Mr President, Volodymyr, It is good to be in Kyiv again.”
In a statement, the prime minister added that the UK will be with Ukraine until they “ultimately prevail”.
“My visit today, in the depths of this war, is to send a clear and simple message to the Ukrainian people: the UK is with you, and we will be with you until you ultimately prevail,” he said.
“As Ukrainian soldiers fire UK missiles in defence of your nation’s sovereignty, they do so also in defence of the very freedoms we take for granted.
“That is why I have offered President Zelenskyy a major new military training programme that could change the equation of this war – harnessing that most powerful of forces, the Ukrainian determination to win.
“Two months on from my last visit, the Ukrainian grit, determination and resilience is stronger than ever, and I know that unbreakable resolve will long outlive the vain ambitions of President Putin.”
A message on Mr Zelenskyy’s Telegram account read: “Many days of this war have proved that Great Britain’s support for Ukraine is firm and resolute.
“Glad to see our country’s great friend Boris Johnson in Kyiv again.”
Sky News understands that one Conservative MP at the conference was furious the prime minister did not turn up to the event, adding they were told that Mr Johnson “was on the train to Doncaster” on Friday morning.
“This is the first test of outreach to his colleagues and he’s failed it,” the MP said.
New scheme to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days
Downing Street said Mr Johnson met President Zelenskyy in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s fight against Russia and to offer a major training programme for Ukrainian forces “to help sustain their heroic defence”.
The government said the programme, spearheaded by the UK, has the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days and will assist both new and existing Ukrainian soldiers.
The initiative will train and drill Ukraine’s armed forces using battle-proven British Army expertise, allowing them to accelerate their deployment, rebuild their forces and scale up their resistance as they continue to defend their nation’s sovereignty against Russian invaders, Downing Street added.
It is proposed that each soldier would spend three weeks on the training course, learning battle-winning skills for the frontline, as well as basic medical training, cyber security and counter-explosive tactics.
Video from the Ukrainian government showed Mr Zelenskyy warmly greeting the prime minister with a “hi, Boris” as he arrived at the presidential palace.
Mr Johnson’s social media post included a picture of the prime minister alongside Mr Zelenskyy.
PM’s second visit to Kyiv
The prime minister is seen holding a diary which reads “Tuesday 5 April” – the day he made a direct appeal to the Russian people, speaking partly in their own language.
“The Russian people deserve the truth, you deserve the facts,” he said in Russian.
Continuing in English, he added: “The atrocities committed by Russian troops in Bucha, Irpin and elsewhere in Ukraine have horrified the world.”
Mr Johnson became the first leader of a G7 country to travel to Kyiv when he went in April.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said at the time: “We welcome Boris Johnson to Kyiv… Be brave, like Boris. Be brave, like Ukraine.”
The latest trip came a day after French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italy’s leader Mario Draghi met Mr Zelenskyy as Ukraine makes a bid to join the EU.
MPs ‘mystified’ by PM’s absence at Doncaster summit
The prime minister’s spokesperson earlier announced he would not be attending the summit in Doncaster on Friday afternoon, just hours before the Tory leader was expected to make a speech.
Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates reported earlier on Friday that organisers of the summit were “mystified” at the prime minister’s no-show, but had been told there was a “good reason” and that it was of “sufficient significance”.
There was speculation the prime minister may have faced a rough ride following the partygate scandal and a major revolt by his own MPs.
The inaugural Northern Research Group Conference had been titled Levelling Up The North.
The agenda included MPs hosting policy sessions on a range of subjects, including tax and the economy, defence, health and devolution.