KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Don’t worry Boris, there’s one country where your popularity remains undimmed.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have been shown the door in Britain, but he remains a political juggernaut in Ukraine — widely admired for his uncompromising support for the country’s effort to defeat the Russian invasion.
“We all heard this news with sadness,’’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said shortly after Johnson announced his resignation Thursday. “Not only me, but also the entire Ukrainian society, which is very sympathetic to you.’’
There’s good reason for Johnson’s popularity.
As he struggled to fight off police investigations, scandals and political attacks, Johnson deflected criticism at home by positioning himself as the leader of the international effort to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression.
Since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Johnson has pledged 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) of military aid to Ukraine, including armored vehicles and anti-tank missiles. He’s also dispatched economic support, guaranteeing millions in World Bank loans for the country.
Ukrainians have also seen the disheveled U.K. leader in person twice in the last few months.
At a time when Ukraine was still reeling from the initial Russian assault, Johnson showed grit by visiting in early April, walking beside Zelenskyy on the still-empty streets of the capital, Kyiv, which had only recently been under attack.
During a second trip to the capital in June, Johnson stopped to speak with soldiers and served up the “aw shucks” brand of affability that had until recently cemented his popularity in Britain.
“Dobryy den everybody,” he said, awkwardly mixing his “good day” greeting in Ukrainian with English. “I’m Boris Johnson from London. I just want you to know that we support you. Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine)!’’
His stance was popular at home, too, where even those who despised Johnson embraced his support for Ukraine.
Johnson and his Cabinet ministers wore crossed Ukrainian and British flags on their lapels, and U.K. government social media accounts feature a banner proclaiming “The U.K. stands with Ukraine” as a symbol of solidarity.
None of that was lost on the people of Ukraine, where reports of Johnson’s political demise were met with concern.
Sure, other world leaders have visited — Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive arm, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, to name a few. But they came after Johnson.
“The man is cool,’’ said Kyiv resident Dmytro Dimitryi. “He is a slightly unconventional man who does not fit into the generally accepted norms.”
Indeed, Johnson’s legacy in Ukraine will live on in simple ways.
At Kyiv’s Zavertailo’s Café, the outgoing British leader has been honored with his very own confection, the “Boris Johnsonyuk.”
The cake, inspired by English apple pie and Johnson’s mop of blond hair, consists of baked apple, vanilla custard, meringue and vanilla ice cream.
It almost always sells out.
Kirka reported from London.
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