Boris Johnson says he could imagine Winston Churchill’s spirit walking with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “probably would have wept” at the Ukrainian president’s “sheer courage” during the Russian invasion of his country.
The prime minister praised Mr Zelenskyy as he presented him with the Sir Winston Churchill Leadership Award.
The country’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, was in London to accept the honour on his president’s behalf while Mr Zelenskyy listened to the ceremony virtually.
Mr Johnson said as the Russian military offensive unfolded in February in a “moment of supreme crisis”, Mr Zelenskyy faced a test of leadership that was “in its way as severe as Churchill’s challenge in 1940” during World War Two.
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Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined Boris Johnson by video link from Kyiv
The prime minister pointed out that Mr Zelenskyy chose to stay in the capital Kyiv, like Churchill stayed in London in 1940 while the Nazis invaded France.
Speaking about the early part of the Ukraine war, Mr Johnson said: “I think Churchill would have cheered – and probably would have wept too – because he was often moved to tears, at the sheer courage, the moral physical courage you showed in those grim weeks.
The PM added: “Never in my lifetime in international affairs has there been clearer case of right against wrong.”
He continued: “The global wave of solidarity for Ukraine was, in large measure, generated by your articulation of the cause.
“Your defiance, your dignity, your unfailing good humour, has moved millions.
“As you stand against barbarism, you have become a symbol of the heroism of the Ukrainian people.”
Ukraine’s ambassador Vadym Prystaiko accepted the award on behalf of his president
Comparing Mr Zelenskyy with Churchill, Mr Johnson said: “I can imagine his spirit walking with you, silently urging you on, encouraging you through every ordeal, jabbing the way ahead with his walking stick.
“And perhaps marvelling at your superb contempt for danger. Something I think he understood.”
‘You have been called upon to give the roar… and you delivered it magnificently’
He added: “Like Churchill, you’ve understood that you yourself are not the lion. The Ukrainian people are the lion. You have been called upon to give the roar. The roar of freedom against tyranny, of good against evil, of light against darkness, and you have delivered that roar magnificently.”
In response, Mr Zelenskyy said it was his “honour to receive this leadership award”.
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He also spoke Churchill’s own words when he said in May 1945 after the end of World War Two that it’s “not victory of a party, or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole”.
Mr Zelenskyy said the award “does not only reflect my efforts” as he praised the bravery of thousands of Ukrainian men and women in the battles against Russian forces.
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Mr Zelenskyy said: “The award would have been impossible if the entire Ukrainian people had not risen up to defend their freedom against the attack of tyranny, attempting to send us back to the worst reality of the 20th century, which back then was defeated due to the Churchill factor in particular.”
The president also praised Mr Johnson for his support militarily “in the darkest times… who had no thought in quitting the struggle”, saying: “This award is yours as well Boris. This is the manifestation of our joint leadership of Ukrainians and Britons and all those who will not give their freedom away to any tyrant.”