UK Defence Secretary Applauds the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Ukrainian Armed Forces Day

Wednesday, 6 December 2023 — , UK Defence Secretary
Interflex Public - Defence Imagery (

Mykola used to be a florist.

He grew tulips, petunias and ornamental trees. Last year he was harvesting flowers for International Women's Day when the Russians came.

"I was very close to the frontline," he said: "We had rocket attacks, we had it all, this anxiety. There is no future, and there was no present in what I was doing either."

So Mykola made up his mind then and there.

Uprooting his life, leaving behind his flowers, kissing his girlfriend goodbye and flying to the East of England.

There he joined IT experts and teachers, welders and window cleaners, sportsmen and shop assistants, housewives and hoteliers.

Together with his new comrades, Mykola was trained up by elite British Army instructors and partners from Australia,

Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

Together they learnt how survive in the wild.

How to sleep in waterlogged fox holes.

How to fight hand-to-hand in trenches and shoot an AK-47.

And five weeks later Mykola was back home.

Having swapped the bouquet for the bayonet, he is a florist no longer. He is now a warrior.

Today, as you lay flowers before the tomb of the unknown warrior to mark your Armed Forces Day, I’ll be thinking of Mykola. 

I’ll be thinking of the more than 30,000 troops who like him were trained as part of our Operation Interflex.

I’ll be thinking of Snezhana Chaykina, her son Nikita, and her mother Hanna, who came to stay with me, when Putin started a full-scale war almost two years ago.

Above all, I’ll be thinking about all those ordinary Ukrainians whom I met on my visits to Kyiv earlier this year and whose future has been turned upside down by Putin’s despotism.

And my message to you is simply this. The UK is with you.

We were there, post Russia’s unjustified Crimean invasion in 2014; training your troops as part of Operation Orbital.

We were there in 2022 after the Kremlin’s tanks rolled in across Ukraine.

We were the first European country to send you lethal aid, the first to provide you with tanks and the first to dispatch our long-range missiles to help you kick Russia out.

And, just as we’ve been there with you in the past and present, we will be there with you in the future.

As we head into 2024, Putin still believes the West, distracted by events elsewhere, will tire of his illegal war.

He is wrong.

That’s also why we will be upping our training efforts on land – with Romania joining as the eleventh member of our Interflex intervention.

And that’s why, last month, I announced a major new package of equipment support for Ukraine worth over £100 million.

Following on from £4.6 billion of support committed to Ukraine since the conflict began, we’ll be giving your forces air defence systems, bridging equipment and capabilities to safely cross minefields.

Before he left for the front, Mykola said: "This enemy has come to us and is trying to take everything I have away from me. That's why I am training here in the UK, so we can be victorious, and I can go back to my life."

By the time Armed Forces Day 2024 comes around, I hope Mykola will get his wish.

To return to his garden and plant flowers of freedom.

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