Taoiseach makes unannounced visit to Kyiv to meet Zelenskiy

Leo Varadkar pledges solidarity with people of Ukraine and announces further €5m in humanitarian funding

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made an unannounced visit to Kyiv after travelling late on Tuesday night to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Mr Varadkar has pledged solidarity with the people of Ukraine and said he witnessed the effects of Russia’s invasion at first hand.

Earlier Wednesday morning Mr Varadkar visited towns and villages around Kyiv to meet communities and hear first-hand the accounts of the death and destruction wrought by Russian forces.

A Government spokesman said he is meeting Mr Zelenskiy, prime minister Shmyhal and parliamentary speaker Stefanchuk to “discuss the current situation, and how Ireland can continue to help Ukraine practically and politically”.


The Fine Gael leader will also announce an additional €5 million in humanitarian funding to help with the ongoing emergency response and the attack on the Kakhovka dam.

Mr Varadkar also laid wreaths in memory of the children killed in the conflict, in memory of those killed in the Euromaidan protests of 2014, and in the Russian invasion that followed.

While in Kyiv, he will visit the Lesya Ukrainka Theatre and meet cast members of the production of Brian Friel’s Translations, who recently performed the work in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He will also meet Irish people and businesses working in Ukraine.

It is understood that the Taoiseach is under close-quarter protection from both the Ukrainian army and the Garda Emergency Response Unit.

“This morning I came face to face with the horror inflicted by Russia’s forces on the people of Ukraine. I gave a commitment to President Zelenskiy, and to the people of Ukraine, that we will continue to offer our practical as well as our political backing. We are giving a further €5 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine – €3 million to be spent in Ukraine by the Red Cross for its vital work, and €2 million to the UN fund,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I am here to express Ireland’s solidarity with the Government and the people of Ukraine as they endure more than 500 days of Russian attacks. Ireland’s commitment to Ukraine means that we will support them on their pathway to EU membership. We will work with international partners to ensure that those responsible for this crime of aggression are held accountable, and we will work with Ukraine to restore essential civilian infrastructure to meet their needs today and in the future when they have prevailed.

“I am meeting President Zelenskiy just one day after the EU-CELAC summit where there was strong support for Ukrainian independence, democracy and territorial integrity. This is the 21st century, national borders cannot be changed through violence, and democratically elected Governments should not be overthrown by foreign invasion. We have to draw a line in the sand here and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

The Taoiseach’s trip began with an intensive schedule of engagements with a visit north of the city to the Kyiv Oblast region.

There, he was taken to the small cities of Bucha and Irpin, where scores of civilians were killed during a period of Russian occupation at the start of the war.

In Bucha, Mr Varadkar visited the Church of St Andrew where a mass grave was discovered after Russian soldiers retreated from the area.

Inside the building he was shown an exhibition of images of the graphic scenes captured during the exhumation process.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andrei Kostin accompanied the Taoiseach on the visit and explained the work done to collect evidence for war crimes investigations and secure justice for those killed.

The Taoiseach’s tour also took him through the village of Horenka, where he was taken to an apartment block that was heavily damaged in a Russian aerial bombardment.

The shelling blew a huge hole in the side of the building and the interiors of the apartments that were destroyed are clearly visible.

Among the debris was a painting of an old man enjoying a bath, representing the defiance of residents.

Horenka is also where Irish-born cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski was killed in a Russian attack in March 2022.

Mr Zakrzewski (55) who worked for Fox News, was killed alongside 24-year-old Ukrainian freelance journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova.

Mr Varadkar also visit Moschun, a village that witnessed a pivotal battle in the fight to repel a full-scale invasion of Kyiv.

The Taoiseach laid flowers and observed a moment’s silence to commemorate those Ukrainians fighters, most from the territorial reserves, who gave their lives in defence of the capital.

Later in the morning, Mr Varadkar visited Mikhailivska Square (St Michael’s Square) in central Kyiv, where he watched on as two Ukrainian soldiers laid a wreath on behalf of the Irish Government at a ceremony at the Wall of Remembrance of the Fallen for Ukraine.

The Taoiseach was then shown the remnants of several Russian tanks and other military vehicles that are on display in the square.

At a press conference after meeting Mr Zelenskiy, Mr Varadkar insisted Ukraine would win the war.

“Perhaps Russia believes that it can break the resolve of the Ukrainian people, but I know from the way you fought for the past few years, and from my visit here, that it cannot,” he said.

“My visits to the sites of these atrocities this morning, and my meeting here in Kyiv, has confirmed to me that Russia will not succeed, and Russia cannot be allowed to succeed.

“This is the 21st century and the idea that national boundaries can be changed by violence, or the democratically-elected governments can be overthrown by foreign invasion, must perish.

“We need to make sure that Ukraine succeeds, that it wins this war, so that no other country gets attacked.

“If Russia thinks that targeting civilians and essential infrastructure will discourage Ukraine’s friends, including Ireland, well, it’s wrong.

“Volodymyr Zelenskiy, we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. Ukraine will prevail and Ukraine will be rebuilt.” – Additional reporting PA

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times