Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Western leaders to help rebuild his war-torn country, as he hailed the reconstruction project as a crucial part of its fight for freedom.
He addressed the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London via video-link on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reiterated their support for the country.
“The eyes of the world are looking at us and whether we will defeat Russian aggression exactly as freedom deserves to win, that is without compromising our values,” said Mr Zelensky.
“Also, the world is watching to see if we will restore normal life in such a way that our transformation will land an ideological defeat on the aggressor.
“We protect Ukraine, and thus we protect freedom. And when we build Ukraine, we’ll build freedom.”
Mr Zelensky, who is pushing for Ukraine to join Nato and the European Union, urged Western leaders to have the “courage” to acknowledge that his country is already a key part of their economic and defence alliances.
“We are only waiting for the courage of the alliance leaders to recognise this reality, politically.”
Mr Zelensky highlighted Ukraine’s importance in global food supply and its potential to become a major green energy power.
He said the country could be “the largest source of economic, industrial and technological growth in Europe for decades and decades”.
Thousands of delegates from business, government and civil society groups have gathered for the conference, which Mr Sunak hailed in an opening address as an opportunity to “plant the seeds of Ukraine’s future”.
It came as he announced three billion US dollars (£2.35 billion) in bank loan guarantees to bolster the rebuilding of Kyiv, in partnership with the World Bank.
Downing Street said the guarantees amount to the first bilateral package of multi-year fiscal assistance to be set out by a G7 country, with the funding expected to support public services, including the cost of running schools and hospitals.
Mr Sunak also announced a commitment of up to £250 million of new capital for British International Investment, the UK’s development finance institution.
“Before this terrible war, Ukraine’s economy was becoming a huge investment opportunity,” Mr Sunak said.
“It was the breadbasket of Europe, exporting millions of tonnes of food and grain each month, a top-five exporter of iron ore and steel, a leader in energy – pushing forward renewables, hydrogen and electric vehicles – and a start-up nation which helped spark names like PayPal, WhatsApp and Revolut, with a thriving tech sector which actually had a record year in 2022.
“The truth is, that opportunity is still there today – in fact the war has only proved how much Ukraine has to offer.”
Ms von der Leyen also told the conference she has “no doubt” that Ukraine will join the EU.
Praising the country’s progress on reform, she said: “Together we gather here to tell Ukrainians that their dream is also our dream.
“Ukrainians tell us, when they imagine their future, they see Europe’s flag flying over their cities. I have no doubt that Ukraine will be part of our union.”
Mr Zelensky also appeared to offer Mr Sunak a fresh invitation to visit Ukraine, following his trip there last year.
“By the way, Prime Minister Rishi, we have not seen each other in Kyiv for quite a while.”
Mr Sunak responded: “Thank you, Volodymyr, not least for providing options for my summer holiday in a couple of months.”
Former prime minister Boris Johnson, who has been a vocal backer of Ukraine since leaving office, called for the West to focus on “ensuring a Ukrainian victory” and equip Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets.
“We need to focus on the Ukrainian counter-offensive and make sure that the Ukrainians have everything that they could possibly need,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
“My message to everybody is very simple: Yes, of course, let’s talk about rebuilding Ukraine. Let’s talk about the Ukrainian recovery, but the absolute pre-requisite of that conversation is ensuring a Ukrainian victory, and a Ukrainian victory as fast as possible.”
Foreign ministers from around the world addressed delegates on Wednesday morning, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those pledging backing for Kyiv as leaders stressed the importance of the private sector and foreign investment in the redevelopment of Ukraine.
Mr Zelensky told the audience: “Russia is very afraid of our democracy.
“Democracy paves the way for the rule of law.
“We will strengthen it anyway, no matter what they do in Russia.”
He stressed that re-constructing Ukraine is and should be a global priority: “By building Ukraine, we are building much more than one country.
Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, who was one of a number of leaders hosted by the King at a reception at St James’s Palace on the eve of the conference, represented his country at the conference.
Charles held an audience with dozens of distinguished guests, including Mr Blinken, Ms von der Leyen and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Tuesday evening.
Published: by Radio NewsHub