Richard Branson tours bombed-out Ukrainian airport, meets Zelensky

Richard Branson tours bombed-out Ukrainian airport and views charred remains of world’s biggest jet as billionaire meets Zelensky for talks on ‘what business can do’ to support Kyiv

  • British billionaire travelled to Ukraine yesterday to meet with President Zelensky
  • The pair discussed ‘how business can work with government to support Ukraine’
  • He visited Hostomel airport on the outskirts of Kyiv with a delegation of officials
  • The airport was the scene of one of the most destructive battles early in the war
  • It was also home to the world’s largest plane, which was destroyed by invaders

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson travelled to Ukraine yesterday, where he met president Volodymyr Zelensky and visited Hostomel airport – the scene of a bloody and destructive battle early in the war.

Following an invitation from the Ukrainian leader, the entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group met with Zelensky, foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and a group of Ukrainian business leaders on Wednesday.

Branson said the purpose of the meeting was to ‘learn what business, in partnership with civil society and governments, can do to support Ukraine most effectively’.

A key part of the trip saw Branson tour Hostomel Airport, where he viewed the chaos wrought by Vladimir Putin’s forces and examined the remains of the Antonov AN-225.

The AN-225 – known as Mriya, or ‘Dream’ – was the world’s largest transport plane and a jewel of Soviet and Ukrainian engineering until its destruction.

Branson said: ‘It is clear these kinds of attacks are not unintended and arbitrary. They are part of a deliberate strategy to spread fear and terror among Ukraine’s civilian population.

‘I hope the Russian perpetrators of these shocking acts will be held to account.’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson (right) talk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 29, 2022

British businessman Richard Branson visits Hostomel Airport in Hostomel, Kyiv Region, Ukraine

A key part of the trip saw Branson tour Hostomel Airport, where he viewed the chaos wrought by Vladimir Putin’s forces and examined the remains of the Antonov AN-225 (pictured)

The Antonov An-225 Mriya, the world’s largest cargo plane, destroyed in the Battle of Antonov Airport during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine stays in a ruined hangar, Hostomel, Kyiv Region

The An-225 Mriya was the world’s largest transport plane until its destruction at the hands of Russian forces

The Virgin founder called the visit to the war-torn country a ‘humbling and emotional experience’.

‘I remembered Kyiv very well from previous visits in 2014 and 2015. It’s a beautiful capital, with a stunning historic cityscape built along the banks of the majestic Dnieper,’ he added.

‘But the scars of war are inescapable throughout this sprawling city, most notably in the burned-out shells of residential buildings hit by indiscriminate Russian airstrikes and missile attacks.’

In a statement from Zelensky’s office about Branson’s visit, the president said the pair discussed the issue of maintaining the ‘world’s attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine’.

‘The billionaire noted that he constantly supports our state, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the introduction of the toughest sanctions against Russia and those who support and finance the war,’ it said.

Taras Dumenko, head of the Hostomel military administration which helped to organise Branson’s visit to the airport, stated: ‘In Hostomel [Branson] was interested in the SE Antonov airfield and possibilities of its renovation. We told our guest about the prospects and existing projects of airport reconstruction.’

The enormous An-225 – a source of national pride for Ukraine – was destroyed in the first week of war after Russian tanks rolled across the border on February 24. 

The cargo plane had six engines, weighed 314 tonnes and was initially designed to carry rocket boosters for the Soviet space programme, measuring 275 feet long with a 288-foot wingspan – almost twice the width of a traditional football field. 

With upgrades and redevelopment, the aircraft boasted a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tonnes, meaning the An-225 could carry more than its own weight in cargo. 

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the time of its destruction: ‘Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya, but they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We shall prevail!’

State arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom had suggested it could cost more than $3billion (£2.24billion) to repair, the plane, which they would try to get Russia to pay.

In a statement from Zelensky’s office about Branson’s visit, the president said the pair discussed the issue of maintaining the ‘world’s attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine’

The cargo plane had six engines, weighed 314 tonnes and was initially designed to carry rocket boosters for the Soviet space programme

The An-225 measured 275 feet long with a 288-foot wingspan – almost twice the width of a traditional football field. The remains of a charred tank sit in front of the destroyed aircraft

A satellite image collected over Antonov Airfield shows the destroyed former hangar of the Antonov An-225 Mriya sitting north of military vehicles clustered around main hangars and a static aircraft to south, as well as nearby warehouse engulfed in flames on February

Russia meanwhile is continuing its bombardment of Ukraine’s last stronghold in the eastern Donbas region.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russian forces were making ‘incremental advances’ in their offensive to capture Lysychansk, the last city in the Luhansk province under Ukrainian control following the retreat of Ukraine’s forces from the neighbouring city of Severodonetsk.

Crews also continued to search through the rubble of a shopping mall in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine where the country’s authorities say 20 people remained missing after a Russian airstrike killed at least 18 two days earlier.

Ukrainian state emergency services press officer Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that along with the 18 people killed, investigators found fragments of eight more bodies, while images released on social media appeared to show corpses of children being pulled out of the rubble.

A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.

‘Russian planners highly likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive military necessity in striking a target,’ the MoD said.

‘It is almost certain that Russia will continue to conduct strikes in an effort to interdict the resupplying of Ukrainian front-line forces.’

Russia’s military is also experiencing a shortage of more modern precision strike weapons, which is compounding civilian casualties, MoD said.

The Kremlin’s troops and their separatist allies control 95 per cent of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the Donbas region.

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