Ukraine invasion: President Volodymyr Zelensky thanks UK for support on behalf of Ukraine's 'war heroes' on surprise visit to London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the UK parliament on Wednesday (local time) during his surprise visit to London, thanking Britain on behalf of his country's "war heroes."

Zelensky expressed gratitude to British parliamentarians for supporting Ukraine during his speech in Westminster Hall. "Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your bravery," he said. "Thank you very much. From all of us.

"London has stood with Kyiv since day one," he told lawmakers. "Since the first seconds and minutes of the full-scale war. Great Britain, you extended your helping hand when the world had not yet come to understand how to react."

He added: "We know Russia will lose. We know victory will change the world, and this will be a change the world needed. The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most important victory of our lifetime. The victory over the very idea of war."

"After we win, any aggressor, it doesn't matter, big or small, will know what awaits him if he attacks international order," he continued.

"Any aggressor who will try to push the boundaries by force, who will inflict destruction and death on other peoples, who will try to endure his dictatorship at the expense of other people's blood in criminal and unprovoked wars, as the Kremlin does -- any aggressor is going to lose."

Zelensky touched down in Britain earlier Wednesday, at a time when Kyiv is urging the West to send more weapons and military support to counter Russian advances.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greeted Zelensky at Stansted Airport, north of London, after he landed aboard a UK Royal Air Force C-17 transport plane. Sunak tweeted a picture of the pair embracing on the runway. "Welcome to the UK, President @ZelenskyyUa," reads the caption, adding the hashtag #GlorytoUkraine.

Zelensky traveled to Downing Street with Sunak, before addressing the UK Parliament in Westminster Hall. He is also set to meet Britain's King Charles, Buckingham Palace has said, as well as Ukrainian troops being trained by British forces.

The president's visit to London is only his second outside his country since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago, following his visit to Washington DC in December.

Ukraine's first statement on Zelensky's visit to the United Kingdom on Wednesday came in the form of emojis.

Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, regularly sends messages on Twitter consisting entirely, and often cryptically, of emojis.

In this case, he tweeted the emojis for: The UK flag, a soldier's helmet, a flexed muscle, a pig's snout (presumably representing "orcs," or Russian soldiers), and a skull and crossbones.

The trip comes as Zelensky has been desperately seeking military aid from Western allies as Ukrainian officials warn Moscow is gearing up for a spring offensive.

Britain announced Wednesday it would send more military equipment to Kyiv to help counter a possible Russian spring offensive. Sunak said the UK would expand training to Ukrainian fighter pilots and marines, while also promising a long-term investment in Ukraine's military.

Training for Ukrainian pilots

The UK will begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, in what CNN understands would be the first official training program for Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter aircraft. There was however no mention of providing Ukraine with Western fighter aircraft that Zelensky has been calling for.

Kyiv will likely welcome the news that the UK's training program is expanding to fighter jets, with Ukrainian officials having long called for Western allies to supply the planes.

No 10 has so far refused to send its Typhoon or F-35 fighter jets to Ukraine, saying it was not "the right approach." However, Wednesday's announcement will raise hopes that there could be a future shift in attitude.

The UK also said it will provide Ukraine with "longer range capabilities," without going into details.

"The Prime Minister will also offer to provide Ukraine with longer range capabilities," a Downing Street statement read. "This will disrupt Russia's ability to continually target Ukraine's civilian and critical national infrastructure and help relieve pressure on Ukraine's frontlines."

NATO allies recently answered Kyiv's calls for main battle tanks to bolster its military -- which has until now been relying on Soviet-era tanks.

The UK was the first to announce in mid-January that it would send 12 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. After weeks of pressure, this was followed by announcements from Germany and the US that they would send Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tanks respectively.

Amid Zelensky's visit, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced more sanctions against the "Russian military and Kremlin elites."

The UK package targets six entities providing military equipment such as drones, as well as eight individuals and one entity connected to "nefarious financial networks that help maintain wealth and power amongst Kremlin elites," a government statement read.

"Ukraine has shown Putin that it will not break under his tyrannical invasion. He has responded by indiscriminately striking civilian areas and critical national infrastructure across the country," Cleverly said. "We cannot let him succeed. We must increase our support."

An earlier Downing Street statement said the sanctions would be introduced "in response to Russia's continued bombardment of Ukraine, including the targeting of those who have helped Putin build his personal wealth, and companies who are profiting from the Kremlin's war machine."

The UK government has already imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals and entities since last February when Russia invaded Ukraine, according to UK government data.

Sunak said: "President Zelensky's visit to the UK is a testament to his country's courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries.

"Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory.

"I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future."