Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Sir Richard Branson in Kyiv

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British billionaire Sir Richard Branson travelled to Ukraine to meet president Volodymyr Zelensky and see some of the devastation wrought by Vladimir Putin’s “appalling invasion”.

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

Sir Richard 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”.

Handout photo issued by Ukrainian Presidential Press Office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his meeting with Sir Richard Branson in Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his meeting with Sir Richard Branson in Kyiv on Wednesday (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

Sir Richard 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.”

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

Local resident collects photos of his family left under the rubble after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday
A local resident collects photos of his family left under the rubble after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine (George Ivanchenko/AP)

“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 Mr Zelensky’s office about Sir Richard’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.

People watch as smoke bellows after a Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, on Monday
People watch as smoke bellows after a Russian missile strike hit a crowded shopping mall in Kremenchuk (Viacheslav Priadko/AP)

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 Sievierodonetsk.

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 Service firefighters work to take away debris at a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk
Ukrainian state emergency service firefighters work to take away debris at the shopping centre (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

It was not immediately clear whether that meant there were more victims. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.

MoD said there was a “realistic possibility” that the mall strike “was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target”.

People react at a shopping center burned after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Twenty people remain missing after a Russian airstrike killed at least 18 at a shopping centre in Kremenchuk (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

“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% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.

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