Twitter/Alexander De Croo

Belgian Premier De Croo in surprise Kyiv visit

The Belgian premier Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal) and Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib (Francophone liberal) have paid an unpre-announced visit to the Ukrainian capital.  The Belgians announced additional aid for Kyiv of 37.4 million euros.

Mr De Croo and Ms Lahbib arrived in Kyiv early this morning.  The visit is Mr De Croo’s first since Russia's further invasion of Ukraine.  The Belgian party travelled from Poland by train in the greatest secrecy.  Security concerns mean no details of their programme are being released ahead of time.

Quizzed about the risks of such a trip during the journey Mr De Croo told VRT’s Jan Balliauw: “The Ukrainian people live in danger every day.  Travelling to Ukraine from Belgium at this time is also an important signal.  The winter has started and Russia is attacking the civilian population.  This is one of the most difficult moments of the war”.

PM De Croo and foreign minister Lahbib met with President Zelensky of Ukraine within hours of their arrival. They pledged 37.4 million euros in extra support.

10 million euros will go on hospital repairs, repairing heating infrastructure and the like.  Up to half of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure has currently been eliminated as a result of Russian attacks.  “Without power and heating it’s going to be a difficult winter” says Jan Balliauw.

Belgium is providing winter aid through B-FAST, the Belgian team providing emergency help from various government departments: generators, first aid packs and sleeping bags, also humanitarian support to access clean water and sanitation facilities via UNICEF. Belgium is releasing support to the International Organisation of Migration for the repair of 14 hospitals and the provision of heating and water infrastructure.

Belgium is also providing military aid.  The Belgian defence department is supplying underwater drones.  These can be used to detect threats from submarines and mines.

Aid will be provided in the short-term.  Temperatures are currently hovering around freezing but the real winter still needs to start.

Since the start of the war Belgium has released 221.7 million euros for Ukraine: 145 million in military support, 76.7 million euros in support for civilian infrastructure.

VRT’s Jan Balliauw says feathers ruffled as a result of the visit by foreign minister Lahbib to Russian occupied Crimea, when she was still working as a journalist last year, have been smoothed.

Ukraine and Belgium have always enjoyed excellent diplomatic relations. “By Ukraine, Belgium is seen as a reliable ally that may not yet have done enough” says Balliauw.  “Belgium hopes this visit will shore up our reputation”.

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