Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets Sir Richard Branson in Kyiv

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson traveled 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 the Virgin Group met on Wednesday with Mr. Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and a group of Ukrainian business leaders.

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”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his meeting with Sir Richard Branson in Kyiv on Wednesday (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

After visiting a residential area with a destroyed kindergarten recently hit by a Russian missile strike, Sir Richard traveled to Gostomel airport to see the remains of the Antonov AN-225, the largest aircraft transport in the world known as Mriya (Dream).

Sir Richard said: “It is clear that these types of attacks are neither unintentional nor arbitrary. They are part of a deliberate strategy to spread fear and terror among the Ukrainian civilian population.

“I hope that the Russian perpetrators of these shocking acts will be held accountable.”

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

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

“I remember Kyiv very well from previous visits in 2014 and 2015. It is a beautiful capital, with a stunning historic cityscape built along the banks of the majestic Dnieper,” he added.

“But the scars of war are inevitable throughout this sprawling city, most notably in the burning shells of residential buildings hit by indiscriminate Russian airstrikes and missile attacks.”

In a statement from Mr Zelensky’s office regarding Sir Richard’s visit, the president said the pair had discussed the issue of keeping “the world’s attention on the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

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

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

Meanwhile, in the country’s long-disputed eastern province, Russia continued its bombardment of Ukraine’s last stronghold.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Russian forces were making “gradual advances” in their offensive to capture Lysychansk, the last town in Luhansk province under Ukrainian control after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the nearby town of Sievierodonetsk.

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

Firefighters from the Ukrainian State Emergency Service work to remove debris from a burned shopping mall after a rocket attack in Kremenchuk Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters work to remove debris from the mall (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Ukrainian state emergency services press secretary Svitlana Rybalko told The Associated Press that in addition to the 18 people killed, investigators found fragments of eight other bodies.

It was not immediately clear whether this meant more casualties. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.

The Department of Defense said there was a “realistic possibility” that the mall strike was “intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target”.

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

“Russian planners most likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive the military necessity to hit a target,” the ministry said.

“It is almost certain that Russia will continue to carry out strikes with the aim of interdicting the resupply of Ukrainian frontline forces.”

The Russian military is also experiencing a shortage of more modern precision-strike weapons, compounding civilian casualties, the defense ministry said.

Kremlin troops and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbass.

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