In that country the outgoing PM is more loved than ever
There is no need to ask Ukrainians about who is their favourite Western politician. The answer is clear: it’s Boris Johnson.
Since the invasion, Ukrainians have depended on international support for the defence of their country. Over time, however, it became clear that some countries were more invested than others. For weeks on end, we heard the same tiresome political platitudes about ‘solidarity’ and ‘concern’ when what Ukraine really needed was weapons.
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When German politicians kept harping on about the need for diplomacy, the UK was acting by sending anti-tank guided NLAW missiles to Kyiv. These deliveries — together with US Javelins — stopped the Russian offensives in Kyiv and saved Ukraine. In fact, such was the popularity of the UK that “God save the Brexit” became one of the most common refrains.
That may sound naive, but for Ukrainians the connection was clear: rebellious Britons, who left the EU and decided to go their own way with their clumsy and bullish Prime Minister were seen as an alternative to the bureaucratic and comparatively ineffective EU.
Boris Johnson knew how to use this image. He came to Kyiv twice without any warning and walked through the city with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. He greeted pedestrians and took presents from them. He played a role Ukrainians wanted to see — and seemed to enjoy it.
Ukrainians did too. A Kyiv bakery started to sell “Boris Dzhonsonyuk” croissants topped with cream resembling Johnson’s blonde hair, while Ukrainian rap band MyusliUA published a track dedicated to the Prime Minister, praising him for destroying Russian tanks and calling him “the world’s most positive politician and the biggest friend of Ukraine, a legend”. Ukraine’s most popular weekly NV even collected memes about the Tory leader.
Did Ukrainians care about all of the Prime Minister’s scandals? The truth is, when you are defending your homeland from Russian invaders, asking whether Boris had champagne with his birthday cake suddenly doesn’t seem so important. He is a hero to Ukrainians and will remain so.
So what could Boris do next? Many wonder if the outgoing Prime Minister will follow in the footsteps of Georgian ex-president Saakashvili, who has served for several years as a Ukrainian governor of Odesa region. If it were constitutionally permissible, there is no doubt that Ukrainians would invite Johnson to do the same thing too. Either way, they will miss Boris and the country is deeply sad to see him go.
Sergej Sumlenny is a German political expert with a particular focus on security and energy policy in Russia and Eastern Europe. In 2015-2021, he was an office director for Ukraine and Belarus at the German Heinrich-Böll Foundation.