Why the West needs to increase support for Ukraine

Richard Branson in Ukraine, visiting the Superhumans Center
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 14 April 2023

In February, I wrote about how Ukraine needs advanced weapons from the West, delivered more swiftly, alongside unwavering support from global businesses to end this cruel war. Upon visiting Ukraine again earlier this week, I saw with my own eyes just how critical this is. As President Zelensky said: “You’ve given me one wing, now you’ve asked me to fly.”

In the last few days, I met so many heroic people who are having to fight with their hands tied behind their back. And yet, they aren’t giving up. I also met heartbroken families who have lost loved ones but who refuse to give up hope. And in a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, First Lady Olena Zelenska and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, I learned about the wonderful progress being made by the grassroots organisations that we work with at Virgin Unite – with the extraordinary and generous support from the remarkable Howard Buffett.

This included the soon-to-be-opened Superhumans Center in Lviv, which Howard has helped get off the ground. Superhumans is an amazing organisation that provides treatment and rehabilitation for wounded victims of war in Ukraine. To see a world-class medical centre operating in a country at war was truly inspiring, and it speaks to the dedication and passion of Andrey Stavnitser (a business leader who established the centre), Olga Rudnieva, and their brilliant team. One of the patients I met had lost two legs in combat. His courage, positive spirit, and continued commitment to the people of Ukraine is awe-inspiring. When he took his first steps on prosthetic legs a few days ago, his mother said: “I was as excited to see you take these steps, as I was when you took your first steps as a toddler.” 

We also visited war-ravaged apartment blocks in Borodyanka – where Russian tanks bound for Kyiv had ripped through buildings. Within the debris we spotted toys, mattresses, burnt bicycles, and other remnants of people’s everyday lives. Particularly haunting was seeing the cells of a police station that Russian soldiers had turnned into torture chambers (with the dreaded 06 number still left on the doors – apparently reminiscent of Russia’s Siberian concentration camps). Another sign of the brutality of the Russian invasion.

Later, we stopped by the Global Empowerment Mission’s warehouse. The organisation has shipped and delivered over $120 million worth of relief aid to 262 Ukrainian cities, towns and villages – thanks to a wonderful partnership with Howard’s Howard G. Buffett Foundation. It is truly remarkable to see the extent of Howard’s impact in Ukraine. As he put it:

We just can’t wait for the war to end. We need to address trauma now, and show businesses worldwide why they must invest.

Virgin Unite is honoured to be supporting Howard and Shannon Sedgwick Davis from the The Bridgeway Foundation in their critical work.

I also joined First Lady Olena Zelenska, who has been rightly named as one of TIME’s most influential people of 2023, at the construction site of the Kitchen Factory in Bucha. The project was launched by the First Lady and was once again generously supported by Howard. As the First Lady said to me: “If we continue to educate children and give them stability, we will become unbreakable.” It was particularly moving to learn that this project is being developed on the site of a Russian massacre. I felt that was a huge sign of both the resilience and the unstoppable spirit of Ukraine.

Richard Branson with Howard Buffett and the First Lady of Ukraine
Helen Clarke

In my meeting with President Zelensky and the Foreign Minister, we discussed what was needed to end the war, and I asked how businesses can support Ukraine in the most effective way possible. The President stressed the need for more advanced artillery systems and ammunition from the West, delivered much faster. As he explained, Russia is using hypersonic missiles that Ukraine can’t compete with, and other weapons supplies are running low. Land mines have been another massive challenge, killing hundreds of people, and severely disrupting agriculture and food supply. Demining the country will require an enormous collective and global effort.

The president also stressed the importance of keeping the world’s attention on the war, and putting continued pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Businesses (and business leaders) must do their part - by speaking up, but also by ensuring they are completely divested from Russia and its interests. Too many companies continue to profit from doing business with or in Russia, which fuels Putin’s war machine through the taxes they pay, the supply chains they support, and the technology they share. This needs to stop.

I was honoured that President Zelensky asked me to become a UNITED24 Ambassador. UNITED24 is the president’s official fundraising platform, and it has quickly become a powerful force in Ukraine and beyond by raising funds to buy generators and ambulances, re-build bridges, and help people receive lifesaving medical supplies. As an ambassador, I’ll use our global reach and networks to support this work and mobilise more businesses to help the people of Ukraine. 

Every part of this visit was memorable and moving. One particularly touching moment was my encounter with Bogdan, a young man with cerebral palsy who survived a Russian attack in Bucha with his wonderful mother. His home was burnt down at the beginning of the war, but has now been rebuilt. It was fantastic to see the community rebuilding and healing, despite everything they’ve gone through. I also had the opportunity to have a game of chess with Bogdan, a local chess champion, and to bring him a personalised chess set.

Richard Branson playing chess in Ukraine
Shannon Sedgwick Davis

This trip made it clear there is so much room for governments, businesses and civil society to support Ukraine – from faster delivery of advanced weapons, to dialling up international support, cutting all ties with Russia, coordinating action with other businesses and humanitarian organisations, and fundraising for grassroots initiatives. It’s important to remember thatthe Ukrainian people aren’t just fighting and dying for Ukraine, they are fighting for Europe and the free Western world too.

I am so grateful to Jean Oelwang (founding CEO of Virgin Unite), Shannon Sedgwick Davis (my good friend and CEO of The Bridgeway Foundation), and Howard and his brilliant foundation, for everything they do to help the people of Ukraine. And I thank President Zelensky, First Lady Olga Zelenska, the Foreign Minister and the team at UNITED24 for fighting against all odds to protect their country. Ukraine has become a beacon of determination and hope for the world – but it needs so much more support from everyone for peace to be restored, and for the nation to rebuild.

Lear more about how we are supporting Ukraine: