Kyiv is ‘the right place to be’, says UK Ambassador after returning to town | Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to have given up on his ambitions to take over Kyiv after losing the battle for the city this spring, the British ambassador to Ukraine warned as she returned to work in the city. capital in time of war.
Melinda Simmons, who has returned to Kyiv despite Russian threats against diplomats based there, said it was “crushing” to be back in a city she once feared she would never see again.
“I wasn’t sure if I would come back to Kyiv, so coming back is an extraordinary thing,” she said in her first interview from the capital since the embassy was evacuated in February. “It really is the right place to be.”
Simmons traveled to the city from western Ukraine on Friday evening, a journey along a highway battered by some of the most brutal Russian aggression. The charred remains of destroyed buildings that line miles of highway bear witness to the intensity of the fighting.
“It’s useful to drive because you really get a sense of what’s going on…and it’s really shocking. But what is equally extraordinary is how Ukraine has kept Russia out of kyiv. Every way Ukraine has been able to do this is something to celebrate and cherish. »
Moscow has focused on a new offensive in the east and south after pulling out of Kyiv, at least for now. “I think Putin would definitely want to try again if he thought he was making progress,” Simmons said.
But even in the east, having concentrated their forces for a new offensive, the Russian army struggled. He seems to be repeating some of the tactical mistakes he made around the capital and is taking heavy losses in the front line.
Around the city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces made some gains against Russia, despite heavy shelling that left one dead and five injured.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby briefly choked with emotion on Friday as he described the destruction in Ukraine and denounced Putin’s “depravity”.
Ukrainian prosecutors say they have identified more than 8,000 war crimes committed by Russian troops and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for alleged atrocities in Bucha near kyiv. It’s been a month since the Ukrainian army drove Russia out of the Kyiv region, but police and volunteers are still finding new graves.
The gradual return of many Western ambassadors to Kyiv has served as a mark of confidence and solidarity for the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which on Friday welcomed Simmons by name in his video address to the nation.
Perhaps that is why Russia threatened to target foreign diplomats in the capital, which it hit with missile strikes that killed a journalist during a visit by the UN secretary general , António Guterres, last week.
“I’m not minimizing. I don’t respect him. You have to take that into account, but I’m still here,” Simmons said, pointing out that she wasn’t just a potential target.
“[There are 27 ambassadors here] so that’s a lot of diplomats to target,” she said. “I am here with an increased level of security and with this potential risk in mind, but for now I feel comfortable working under these circumstances.”
She said that despite strong Ukrainian resistance and Russian failures, the war is not expected to end anytime soon. “You’re looking at quite a long game… definitely until this year and probably until next year,” and effectively warned that Kyiv would not be safe until Russia were defeated.
“Politically, I have no doubt that Putin’s goals for Ukraine have not changed, even though their tanks had to retreat north from kyiv,” she said. “I can also see that the Kyiv city administration and the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not take this gain for granted at all. And they are right.
Asked if the UK thought Ukraine should try to push the struggling Russian military out of the country completely and reclaim Crimea, she said the first military objective should be to reclaim the territory. seized since the beginning of the invasion.
“The most important thing right now is to get Russia back to where it was before February…because that’s where the existential threat lies. Let’s come to this step. And then let’s see,” she said.
But she added that the UK “has never recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea”, nor the separatist claims over the Donbass region, and that these land grabs now have “much more visibility than before”. the invasion”. It draws much more people’s attention to it. Let’s see how this translates.
The British government is in contact with the families of two aid workers who were detained by Russian forces, but continues to advise citizens not to travel to Ukraine for any reason, she said.
A British citizen was killed fighting for Ukraine last week.
“It has to be an (individual) choice, but our advice is really clear. That no one should do this because it’s not safe,” she said, adding that despite her return, the embassy does not has not reopened in Kyiv and that it does not run a consular service.