Over the last 24 hours, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese could be seen touring the streets of Kyiv’s outer regions after media gag orders were lifted on what would later be known as the prime minister’s first visit to war-torn Ukraine.
The trip became the last stop on Albanese’s tour of Europe, where he spent most of last week as a representative of the “Asia Pacific Four” at a two-day NATO summit in Madrid, which was dominated by talk of how leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies would continue to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” in its defence of Russia’s invasion.
The gaggle of journalists who joined the prime minister in Madrid just one week earlier were mostly denied access to him during his visit to Ukraine on security grounds. Instead, just three reporters, whose names were drawn from a hat, were allowed to accompany the prime minister as his train crossed the border from Poland on Sunday, shrouded in secrecy.
According to the reporters who travelled with him, Albanese travelled with a party of seven, including his social media photographer, foreign affairs adviser, national security adviser, a senior member of his department and one of his personal staffers—along with “at least a dozen” Australian special forces soldiers.
On arrival, Albanese was shown around some of the Kyiv region’s worst-assaulted town centres, including Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, which were only recently subject to the mass killings and torture that have come to underwrite the brutality of Vladimir Putin’s months-long invasion.
At a press conference in Kyiv, Albanese appeared alongside Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to announce that Australia would supply Ukraine with 14 more armoured personnel carriers, and another 20 Bushmaster vehicles, as part of a fresh military support package worth $99.5 million.
“I saw first-hand the devastation and trauma it has inflicted on the people of Ukraine,” Albanese said in a statement following his visit.
“My visit to Kyiv and recent visits by other world leaders sends a clear message that democratic nations like Australia will stand side-by-side with the Ukrainian people in their time of need,” he said.
“President Zelenskyy’s leadership has rallied the Ukrainian people to defend their country and inspired the world to support humanity and freedom. The road ahead is hard but I am confident Ukraine will prevail.”
This most recent announcement brings the total value of Australia’s support for Ukraine’s defence efforts to more than $388 million, making it the largest non-NATO military backer of Zelenskyy’s defence around the world.
Albanese also announced a fresh round of bans and sanctions, including on Russian gold imports, as well as travel bans on 16 more Russian ministers and oligarchs, which brings Russia’s sanctioned list of individuals to 846.
Even still, Ukraine wants more. Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, told Sky News last week that Ukraine would be grateful for more Bushmasters—a heavyweight infantry vehicle—than have already been committed, even though his government understands Australia is doing its best.
“Australia is punching above its weight,” he said. “There is a tradition of Australia standing up to bullying behaviour, and prime minister Albanese understands it really well”.
The visit makes Albanese the first Australian prime minister in history to make it to Ukraine, joining other Western leaders like British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and French president, Emmanuel Macron, in visiting the region over the last few months.
In the week leading up to his visit, Albanese directed much of his commentary through the NATO summit at condemning the actions of Putin, which he said were the root cause of a “humanitarian tragedy”.
“Russia’s brutal invasion is causing severe economic disruption that is being felt right around the world including in Australia,” Albanese said last week.
“Although we are far away geographically, Australians are paying Putin’s petrol prices. We are paying more for food and household items, because global supply chains have been disrupted by his illegal and unjustifiable invasion.”
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