South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was visiting Ukraine on Saturday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the South Korean presidential office said.
The surprise trip came after Yoon attended a NATO summit in Lithuania and visited Poland this week, where he expressed solidarity with Ukraine and explored ways to support its fight against Russia’s invasion.
Yoon visited the site of mass killings in Bucha near the capital Kyiv, before visiting Irpin, a residential area that received large-scale missile attacks. He was expected to hold a summit with Zelenskiy afterward, his office said.
A U.S. ally and rising arms exporter, South Korea has faced renewed pressure to provide weapons to Ukraine, which Yoon’s administration has resisted in favour of humanitarian and financial aid, wary of Russia’s influence over North Korea.
Yoon said this week his administration was preparing to send de-mining equipment and ambulances, following a request from Ukraine, and will join NATO’s trust fund for Ukraine.
Although Yoon’s visit was not entirely unexpected, it is “very significant” given that few other Asian leaders have visited Ukraine, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, the Korea chair at the Brussels School of Governance.
Whether Yoon’s visit signals a shift in policy toward providing more support for Ukraine remains to be seen, but the trip suggests a stamp of approval from Kyiv for the aid that Seoul has sent so far, he said.
“If he’s going it’s because Zelenskiy allowed him to go, because he feels Korea is doing enough to warrant it,” Pacheco Pardo said, adding that it also suggested South Korea may be doing more to support Ukraine behind the scenes.
Zelenskiy asked Yoon to boost military support when they first met in May.
South Korea’s defence ministry has said it was discussing exporting ammunition to the U.S., but said parts of a media report that Seoul had agreed to send artillery rounds to the U.S. for delivery to Ukraine were inaccurate.
“We view Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a challenge to the international community’s freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Yoon said upon meeting Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday, adding that South Korea could be a good partner in rebuilding Ukraine.
South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said on Friday it planned to support the reconstruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, such as transportation, energy and industry.
South Korean companies and companies in Ukraine and other countries signed agreements on Friday for cooperation in the reconstruction of Ukraine, the ministry said in a statement.