Anthony Albanese’s visit to Ukraine was greeted with warmth and sadness by locals suffering from the war in Russia

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, Australian Embassy staff Nadia Teriokhina had one thought in mind: she didn’t want to be trapped behind enemy lines.

She told Anthony Albanese that she counted herself among the lucky ones.

Hundreds of people were massacred in Bucha, outside Kyiv, and about 10 minutes from her home in Irpin, including women and children.

Some women were raped before being killed.

“We didn’t know what to do, how to behave or where to run,” she said.

“I told my husband, ‘I just don’t want to be in the occupied territory,’ so we went to Kyiv.”

Ukrainian tanks were heading in the opposite direction as they fled.

The executive assistant hugged her boss, Australian Ambassador Bruce Edwards, when they gathered outside what was left of his building.

Both are waiting for the Australian Embassy to reopen so they can start working in the city again.

Ms. Teriokhina’s own apartment was undamaged, but the building was condemned as unsafe.

“I had a place to stay in Kyiv right now. But some of my neighbours, especially the elderly, have nowhere to go,” Ms Teriokhina said.

A secret journey revealed on social networks

The Prime Minister entered the country from Poland under a shroud of secrecy, traveling on an armored diplomatic train used by a series of world leaders in recent months.

He traveled with a group of seven, including his social media photographer, foreign affairs adviser, national security adviser, a senior official from his department and one of his personal political aides.

He also brought in just three members of the media, including this reporter, a photographer and a TV cameraman, whose names were pulled from a hat.

Other members of the parliamentary press gallery who traveled with him to Madrid and Paris last week have been banned from travel for security reasons.

At least a dozen Australian special forces soldiers dressed in sports jackets, chinos and dark sunglasses were on the ground to provide security for the prime minister.

The Prime Minister committed millions more to support Ukraine following his visit.(PA: Nariman El-Mofty)

They were discreetly armed, but the group of travelers was assured that there was “no way in hell” that no harm could befall them.

Their vehicles carried additional weapons, body armor for the Prime Minister and other members of his team, and mobile medical facilities in case of emergencies.

Ukrainian special forces, in full combat gear, also followed the prime minister’s every move.

Mr. Albanese first went in motorcade to Bucha, to pay respects to the mass grave where 416 civilians were buried by Russian forces after being killed.

“Bucha is now a household name,” local council leader Tars Shaprovskiy told him.

“Every one of them fired. It wasn’t collateral damage, it was intentional.

“One of the slaughterhouses was a summer camp. There were four volunteers there. They were all shot.”

Mr Albanese told him: “Australia shares your desire to seek justice for these war crimes, and we will continue to do so.”

The tomb, behind the town church of St Andrews, has become a place of pilgrimage for visiting dignitaries.

In a chapel below the church, Mr Albanese joined the congregation, lighting a candle for the victims of the massacre.

Mr Albanese traveled in an armored Land Cruiser in a motorcade of around 10 vehicles.

Local traffic was blocked wherever they went, with soldiers and police stationed along the road.

The center of Kyiv appeared largely intact to visitors, but concrete blocks and sandbags protect the main buildings, and large welded steel road spikes stand on the sides of the city’s main roads, ready to be deployed should the invaders attempt to attack the city again.

Shops and hotels are open again and everyday life has returned to the city.

There was even a small group of tourists crowding near the Intercontinental Hotel, which Mr Albanese’s team used as a base during the visit.

But 30 minutes north of town, the signs of the war are evident: blown up buildings, missile craters, shattered windows, stacked wreckage of burnt-out cars and sandbag holes under the cover of trees.

Ahead of his meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday afternoon, Mr Albanese also visited the destroyed airport of Hostomel, the site of the failed Russian paratrooper assault in the early days of the invasion, aimed at securing the installation to bring in troops and supplies by air. for the Battle of Kyiv.

He shook his head as he surveyed the wreckage of what was once the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov Mriya, which translates to “The Dream.”

He spoke with members of the National Guard unit that repelled a determined attack by Russian forces to land helicopters on the airfield, which could have changed the tide of the war.

As they left, they gave him a model of the famous Antonov plane to take home to Canberra.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese standing and speaking as others watch.
Anthony Albanese said an airplane model given to him in Ukraine would take pride of place in his office.(Telegram: The Governor of Kyiv Oblast, Oleksiy Kuleba’s channel)

Mr Albanese said as a former aviation minister he was touched by the gesture and said the model would have “a prominent place” in his Prime Minister’s Office.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroschnychenko traveled to Kyiv for the visit, which he waved backstage after handing over an official invitation from Mr Zelenskyy.

At first, Australian Foreign Affairs officials declared the trip “impossible”.

But within weeks, plans were underway to make it happen.

A forward security team including personnel from 2 Commando and the Special Air Service Regiment have been deployed to the country to work with the Ukrainian Defense Forces and the Australian Embassy – now temporarily based in Poland – to ensure the visit has venue.

A member of the team said the capital was largely safe.

The main risk was a potential missile strike. Russia recently increased its use of rockets against targets across the country in retaliation for Ukraine’s use of US-donated HIMARS missiles.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytskyi said things were “much more difficult in the east”, where Ukrainian forces were being relentlessly pounded by Russian artillery.

“If you look at the amount of his artillery, it’s one to seven [to Russia],” he said.

“That’s why we appreciate Australia’s support, to Bushmaster [protected vehicles], and the M777 artillery. They are very effective.”

The trip took place under a strict media blackout imposed by the Prime Minister’s Office on the advice of the Australian Defense Force.

Mr. Albanese’s presence in the country was to remain secret until his return to Poland.

Phones and other media devices had to be returned in order to make the trip.

But his presence in the country was revealed on social media as he toured the Ukrainian capital and surrounding areas.

Mr Albanese also met Australian embassy driver Oleksander Lazarachuk, who fled fighting in February with his elderly mother, taking her 400 kilometers to Lutsk in the west of the country.

Albanese steps out of a car onto a red carpet, as Zelenskyy waits to greet him.
Anthony Albanese met Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his visit.(Provided)

“She didn’t want to leave, but I just took her and we left,” he said.

Mr Lazarachuk had mixed feelings about meeting the prime minister who was being driven by his special forces team.

“I should drive you today,” he said. “I’m the embassy driver.”

Ben Packham reported from Ukraine on behalf of Australian Travel Media.

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