Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska says she is ‘holding on’ 

‘Holding on’: Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska opens up in new interview


As US President Joe Biden accuses Putin of committing “genocide” in Ukraine, concerns are mounting over the murder of civilians and the terror of an anticipated Russian offensive in Ukraine’s east.

Despite rapidly increasing danger, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska have continued to stay put, refusing to flee as an act of defiance against Russian aggression.

While the president continues to focus on his country’s military defence against Russian forces, the First Lady has been turning her attention to the welfare of children, working to raise awareness of ordinary citizens and their suffering.

“Responsibility disciplines,” the First Lady told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview over email. 

“It’s like walking a tightrope,” she said. “If you start thinking how you do it, you lose time and balance. So, to hold on, you just must go ahead and do what you do. In the same way, as far as I know, all Ukrainians hold on.”

“I am personally supported by the fact that I try to protect and support others.”

Zelenska praised ongoing solidarity in the country in the face of unspeakable atrocity.

“Many of those who escaped from the battlefields alone, who saw death, say the main cure after the experience is to act, to do something, to be helpful for somebody.” 

“If you look closely, it becomes clear that every Ukrainian is a target for Russians: Every woman, every child,” she replied, after Amanpour asked her how she felt being reportedly the second highest target of Russian forces, after her husband.

“Those who died the other day from a Russian missile [while] trying to evacuate from Kramatorsk were not members of the presidential family, they were just Ukrainians,” she added. 

“So the number one target for the enemy is all of us.” 

Noting her history of humanitarian work with children, the First Lady revealed that before the war, she had launched a school nutrition reform that aimed to make food tasty and healthy to combat childhood sickness. She acknowledged that the war has sadly reversed all the progress the program has made in the past few years. 

“I feel we were thrown years and decades back,” she said. “Now we are not talking about healthy food, but about food in general. It’s about the survival of our children! We are no longer discussing, as before, what is the best equipment for schools — [instead] education for millions of children is under question.” 

The 44-year old mother of two said that half of her country’s children have been forced to go abroad, with many now dealing with physical and psychological trauma.

“Imagine that you have built and renovated a house and just put flowers on the windowsill; and now it is destroyed, and on the ruin you must light a fire to keep warm,” she said. “This is what has happened to our children’s policies and to each family in general.” 

Outlining the country’s strategy for the upcoming weeks, the First Lady said the most vulnerable were being evacuated first, including children with [cancer], [those with] disability and orphans – sending them to countries that agree to accept them for treatment and rehabilitation.

“The main route passes through Poland, and from there, – to other European countries,” she said. 

The country has also begun to import incubators to support newborns in cities that are being bombed by Russians.

“In many hospitals there are power outages, and the lives of children are in danger. Therefore, we need devices that save lives without interruption. Two such devices have already been delivered and eight more incubators are planned to be delivered.” 

Finally, she noted that the government are attempting to speed up the adaptation of refugees  to a new location “…because humanitarian aid alone is not enough.”

“Children need accelerated socialisation and school in a new place,” she added. “In particular, this applies to thousands of children with autism who have found themselves abroad. We are now working to make it easier for them to access classes, otherwise their development will simply stop.”

Since the war began on 24 February this year, Zelenska has used her social media accounts to pay tribute to Ukrainian soldiers, demonstrating a desire to focus on women “…because their participation is everywhere — they are in the armed forces and the defence forces, most of them are medics.” 

“They are the ones who take children and families to safety. For example, only they can go abroad. So, in some ways their role is even more diverse than men’s; this is more than equality!”

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