Boris Johnson has condemned a reported Russian strike on a Ukrainian hospital as “depraved” as he vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military.
Ukrainian officials reported that the maternity and children’s hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol was severely damaged in the attack.
President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the strike as an “atrocity” and reiterated his call to Western nations to impose a no-fly zone.
In response, Mr Johnson tweeted: “There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless.”
He said the UK was considering more support for Ukraine to defend itself against airstrikes and would hold President Vladimir Putin to account “for his terrible crimes”.
Earlier Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the MPs that the Ministry of Defence was looking at whether they could supply anti-aircraft missiles as well as more anti-tank weapons.
There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 9, 2022
The UK is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against airstrikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes. #PutinMustFail https://t.co/JBuvB78HVC
Mr Zelensky posted footage online showing the damage from what he said was a “direct strike” on the hospital, with windows blown out and debris strewn through the corridors.
“People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!” he tweeted.
“How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”
In Washington, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the strike was “absolutely abhorrent”, but continued to reject calls from the government in Kyiv for a no-fly zone.
“The reality is that setting up a no-fly zone would lead to a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia, and that is not what we’re looking at,” she told a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“What we’re looking at is making sure that the Ukrainians are able to defend their open country with the best possible selection of anti-tank weapons and anti-air defence systems.”
Mr Blinken said US involvement in a no-fly zone could “prolong” the conflict, making it “even deadlier”.
“Our goal is to end the war, not to expand it, including potentially expanding it to Nato territory,” he said.
“We want to make sure it is not prolonged, to the best of our ability. Otherwise, it is going to turn even deadlier, involve more people and I think potentially even make things harder to resolve in Ukraine itself.”
Earlier in the Commons, Mr Wallace said a change in Russian tactics meant there was a need to consider how Ukrainian forces could be supported against Russian air attacks.
“We can all see the horrific devastation inflicted on civilian areas by Russian artillery and air strikes, indiscriminate and murderous,” he said.
“It is vital, therefore, that Ukraine maintains its ability to fly and to suppress Russian air attack.”
Mr Wallace said that “in response to a Ukrainian request” the Government was exploring the donation of Starstreak high-velocity man-portable anti-air missiles.
He also confirmed that 3,615 Nlaw anti-tank weapons had been supplied – up from the previously-announced figure of 2,000 – and “small consignments” of the Javelin system would also be sent to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson continued to resist calls to drop visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the violence, insisting the security checks were vital to prevent President Putin infiltrating agents into the UK.
The Prime Minister said a thousand visas had been granted under the scheme allowing relatives of people in Britain to flee the war zone to join their families and he promised another programme allowing individuals to offer a home to Ukrainians would be set out in “the next few days”.
With more than two million people having fled Ukraine to escape the fighting, the Government has come under pressure to follow the example of the European Union which has allowed them visa-free travel.
Ukrainian Ambassador @VPrystaiko met Defence Secretary @BWallaceMP at the MOD this morning— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 9, 2022
They discussed the UK’s military support for Ukraine, including proposals for further lethal aid
The UK is committed to the defence of Ukraine
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 @UkrEmbLondon pic.twitter.com/DM6uxpvRl8
But at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson insisted that Britain needed to maintain security checks on people entering the country.
“We know how unscrupulous Putin can be in his methods, it would not be right to expose this country to unnecessary security risk and we will not do it,” he said.
“We are going to be as generous as we can possibly be, but we must have checks.”
His appearance in the Commons followed a call from Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK to temporarily drop the visa requirement.
Vadym Prystaiko hit out at the bureaucracy of the British system, telling MPs: “I don’t want to see these pictures of people banging at the doors in Calais and scratching the doors which are quite sealed.”
Mr Johnson said the new sponsorship route – announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel last week – would mean “everybody in this country can offer a home to people fleeing Ukraine”.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove is expected to set out details of the scheme on Friday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that one reason the UK was not adopting a visa-free policy was to encourage Ukrainians to stay closer to their homeland.
“President Zelensky and the Ukrainian government have told me that they do not want people to move far away, if at all possible, from the country, because they want people to be able to come back,” he told Sky News.