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(Yonhap Interview) Ukraine's first lady calls for unceasing global unity against Russia's aggression

Interviews 19:00 July 14, 2022

By Song Sang-ho and Kim Ji-yeon

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska made an emphatic appeal Thursday for unflagging global solidarity behind her country's struggle against Russia's aggression, stressing the "democratic values of the entire world" are at stake in the prolonged conflict.

In an exclusive written interview with Yonhap News Agency, the first of its kind with the Korean press, Zelenska cautioned against any apathy toward the war touched off by Russia's Feb. 24 invasion and delivered an impassioned message: "Do not get used to the war."

"I would like to emphasize that there is no place for a neutral position in this war," the wife of President Volodymyr Zelensky said. "You cannot dismiss it as something distant and irrelevant, because this war threatens not only Ukraine but also the democratic values of the whole world."

She then stressed Ukraine is in need of "everything," ranging from humanitarian aid and weapons to assistance for its post-war reconstruction.

This undated photo, provided by Ukraine's presidential office, shows Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska visiting a local facility for children. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The interview came as global attention appears to have relatively diminished compared with the initial stage of the war when the entire world was acutely aghast at the biggest conflict on European soil since the end of World War II in 1945.

Zelenska accentuated the importance of media attention, saying, "Indifference kills (people) indirectly."

"This is my message to the media -- give Ukraine maximum coverage and do not stop," she said.

As part of her plea for Seoul's support, Zelenska drew a comparison between South Korea's experience of the 1950-53 war and the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine, saying the two countries have "a lot in common."

"You, like us, know what it's like to live next door to a neighbor who constantly threatens not only you, but the entire world with nuclear weapons," she said. "In the 1950s, the Western world came together to help South Korea win its war for freedom. Now the Western world has also united around Ukraine."

Since the outbreak of the war, Zelenska has been at the vanguard of efforts to spread information about the devastating repercussions of Russia's invasion and drum up global backing for Ukraine's grueling fight against an invading Russia and for its post-war rehabilitation.

Her current role marked a shift from the traditional first-lady activities centering on humanitarian and cultural realms, she said.

"Before the war, we worked to improve food at schools to make it healthier and more balanced, but now we have to think about how to protect our children from famine," she said. "Who would have thought that in the 21st century a first lady in a country in the center of Europe would face such tasks?"

"Humanitarian crises" are serious in Ukrainian cities occupied by Russia, she pointed out.

"I am simply scared to even imagine what is happening now in the occupied Ukrainian cities," she said. "The Russians create humanitarian crises ... so that people are forced to collect rainwater so that they don't die of thirst, so that people simply stop feeling like people."

Those crises have obviously taken a significant toll on children. Zelenska cited instances of a girl with gunshot wounds getting behind the wheel to drive four adults to safety and a women's youngest son taking care of his mother and older sister in the hospital.

"This is what we see every day in our news. All Ukrainian children instantly became adults on Feb. 24," she said.

Watching such ordeals, the first lady, a mother of two children herself, vowed to "fight for every child" and help the young generations overcome their "enormous trauma" inflicted by the ongoing tragedy.

"I would tell the children that we fight this war for the right to live in our own home, to speak our own language, to invite whoever we want as a guest," she said. "This is a fight for the right to be a free person."

Zelenska plans to host the virtual "First Ladies and Gentlemen Summit" on July 23 to discuss a wide range of issues related to the conflict, such as displaced people, education, children and women.

The transcript of her interview was written in Ukrainian and translated unofficially into English.

This undated photo, provided by Ukraine's presidential office, shows Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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