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9 March 2022

I loathe Boris Johnson — but Ukrainians love him

He's proved a more reliable ally than the US or the EU.

By Oz Katerji

Reporting on the ground often has a way of challenging a reporter’s personal biases. As a fierce critic of Boris Johnson’s incompetent tenure as Prime Minister, and his government’s cruel and inhumane immigration policies, it’s fair to say I’m not the slightest bit interested in boosting his reputation.

Snaking through Kyiv’s labyrinthian fortress of barricades and anti-tank hedgehogs, you can’t travel more than a few hundred metres without being asked to present your passport for inspection. And often, upon discovering that our car is full of British journalists, the soldiers, police officers and territorial defence volunteers who man these defences sing Britain’s praises.

“Thank you UK for the NLAWs,” said one volunteer, giving our car a double thumbs up as we drove past, referring to the “Next-generation light anti-tank weapons” the UK has provided Ukraine with, widely viewed as crucial in slowing Russia’s advances. Indeed, since I arrived in Ukraine in mid-February, it’s clear that as far as the Ukrainians are concerned — and to my own great surprise — Johnson is actually the best international ally Ukraine has.

On a personal level, I am still extremely critical of Johnson’s policies towards Ukraine: both the lack of sanctions on Russia and Britain’s horrific treatment of refugees, which remains a global disgrace. But many people on the ground here now see Britain as a more reliable ally than the US and the EU. This anecdotal evidence is backed up in recent Michael Ashcroft polling, which showed that 53 per cent of Ukrainians thought Britain was “doing enough to help”.

Sending military flights loaded with anti-tank weapons, while other Western leaders were seen as trying to appease Putin, has won many hearts and minds. Ukrainians demanded weapons with which to defend their homes and their families, and Britain proactively and visibly supplied those weapons in the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion. On Wednesday the British Defence Minister Ben Wallace confirmed that Britain had armed Ukraine with 3,615 NLAWs to date.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has been outspoken in his praise for Johnson, thanking him directly during his address to the Commons on Tuesday, saying “I am very grateful to you, Boris.” Yes, Boris Johnson has had struggles at home following partygate, and there have been a series of Tory scandals. But they are all, ultimately, a world away from what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. The people here want solidarity that “we can feel with our hands”, as one territorial defence volunteer on the front line told me. With Britain’s announcement on Wednesday that they would also be sending Starstreak anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine in the coming days, Boris Johnson can expect to find his popularity remains high here in Kyiv.

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