British billionaire Richard Branson met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday as he toured the war-torn country that has faced ramped-up attacks in recent days from invading Russian forces.
Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, wrote in a letter on his website that he spoke with Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kubela and a group of Ukraine business leaders while also visiting some of the sites Russians have attacked since war broke out in February.
“My main purpose in going to Kyiv was to meet and listen to Ukrainians, to understand their fears and concerns and also to learn what business, in partnership with civil society and governments, can do to support Ukraine most effectively,” he wrote.
Branson said he saw Zelensky near the end of his trip for a “personal meeting” that included members of the president’s cabinet.
“The contrast to our first conversation, just two days prior to the invasion, couldn’t be any greater,” Branson said. “In the eyes of the world and his own people, the President has emerged as a rare wartime leader who projects both unbreakable spirit and indefatigable determination to see this war through and repel the aggression.”
Branson first stopped in Poland before he headed to Kyiv where he spoke with business leaders and people on the street.
“Entering a country at war is a humbling and emotional experience. I remembered Kyiv very well from previous visits in 2014 and 2015. It’s a beautiful capital, with a stunning historic cityscape built along the banks of the majestic Dnieper,” he wrote. “But the scars of war are inescapable throughout this sprawling city, most notably in the burned-out shells of residential buildings hit by indiscriminate Russian airstrikes and missile attacks.”
One of the first sites he visited was a residential area that was hit by Russian missile strikes a few days prior. The Ukraine capital city was bombed for the first time since early June.
“Looking at the ruins of a burned-out kindergarten, far away from any kind of target of strategic relevance, it is clear these kinds of attacks are not unintended and arbitrary,” he wrote. “They are part of a deliberate strategy to spread fear and terror among Ukraine’s civilian population. I hope the Russian perpetrators of these shocking acts will be held to account.”
Branson also stopped by Gostomel Airport, a short drive from the center of Kyiv that was the scene of early fighting between Russian and Ukraine forces. There he saw the wreckage of the destroyed Antonov AN-225, the “world’s largest transport plane and the pride of Ukrainian aviation.”
He later had lunch with Kuleba, the foreign minister, and then met with Ukraine business leaders.
He urged businesses and other entities from around the world to support Ukraine, stressing “every effort matters.”
“I was given the opportunity to say a few words, and wanted to convey what I think many of us in the West feel: every day, Ukrainians are fighting and dying for the entire free world,” Branson wrote. “The least the rest of the world can do is to give our unwavering and unconditional support until the last Russian soldier leaves Ukrainian territory.
“Anything else would be defeat – not just defeat to Ukraine’s right to freely choose its own destiny, but also to the rule of law and the sovereignty of nations.”