South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pays surprise visit to Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, offering an apparent show of support for the country in its war against Russia.

Yoon’s office said he traveled to Ukraine with his wife, Kim Keon Hee, after trips to Lithuania for a NATO summit and Poland. It is his first visit since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 17 months ago.

Yoon visited Bucha and Irpin, two small towns near Kiev where bodies of civilians were found in the streets and mass graves after Russian troops withdrew from the capital region last year. He laid flowers in front of a monument to the country’s war dead.

The South Korean leader was due to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later in the day, Yoon’s senior adviser for press affairs, Kim Eun-hye, said in a statement.

South Korea, a key U.S. ally in Asia, joined international sanctions against Russia and provided Ukraine with humanitarian and financial support.

But the Asian nation, a growing arms exporter, has not supplied arms to Ukraine in accordance with its longstanding policy of not supplying arms to countries actively engaged in conflict.

Earlier this month, Yoon said in written responses to questions from The Associated Press that supplies of mine-clearing equipment, ambulances and other non-military equipment “are on the way” following a request from the ‘Ukraine.

He said South Korea had already provided support to replace the Kakhovka dam, which was destroyed last month. The Russian and Ukrainian governments have accused the other of blowing up the dam, but evidence suggests Russia had more of a motive for causing deadly floods, endangering crops and threatening clean water supplies in a disputed part of Ukraine.

“The ROK government is firmly committed to actively joining the United States and other liberal democracies in international efforts to defend Ukraine’s freedom,” Yoon said in written responses to the AP.

During a visit to South Korea in January, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on the country to provide direct military support to Ukraine, saying Kiev urgently needed weapons to fight against the prolonged Russian invasion.

In May, when Yoon met with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in Seoul, the president said he would extend South Korea’s non-lethal aid to Ukraine. Yoon’s spokesman, Lee Do Woon, said at the time that Zelenska made no request for South Korean weapon supplies during her conversation with Yoon.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, South Korea has struck deals worth billions of dollars to supply tanks, howitzers, fighter jets and other military systems. arms to Poland, member of NATO.

A US official said in November that the United States had agreed to buy 100,000 artillery rounds from South Korean manufacturers to supply to Ukraine, although South Korean officials maintained that the ammunition was intended to replenish depleted US stocks.


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