Ukraine first lady: Don't forget about us Ukraine first lady: Don't forget about us

Ukraine first lady: Don't forget about us

    NHK World
    Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska spoke with NHK this month about the toll that Russia's invasion has taken on civilians in her country, and her fears that media attention is starting to drift.

    NHK: Please tell us about your life these days.
    Zelenska: It's always difficult for me to answer this question, because the way families live during war is not a full life. You cannot fully plan your life and future. Basically, we all live one day at a time. We plan only for today. We really want to restart studying at schools from September. I really want my son to go back to school, but I'm not sure if he can do it. And even if he can, will it be safe?

    Zelenska married President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2003, when he was a television actor and she was a scriptwriter on his shows. They now have two children.

    As first lady, she initially kept a low public profile. But after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, she embarked on a mission to tell the world about the atrocities occurring in her country.

    President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, first lady Olena Zelenska, and their children

    NHK: What's changed?
    Zelenska: The war has changed everything in our country. In addition to the main front, there is an information front. And I can honestly say that I will be on the covers and on air as long as I can talk about our war.
    Russia's goal is not just to seize some part of Ukraine's territory. It is already obvious that they aim to exterminate the Ukrainian people. Because 70 percent of all the missiles and bombs that Russia fires at us, hit civilians. They hit residential buildings and infrastructure.
    The Russians are not fighting against our army, but against our civilians. We need to speak very loudly about this because the whole world needs to know that this is not just war, this is terrorism.

    Death of a four-year-old girl

    One death hit Zelenska particularly hard. In July, a four-year-old girl called Liza was killed in what was thought to be a Russian missile strike. Just six months earlier, Liza had appeared in Zelenska's Christmas video.

    Liza in Zelenska's Christmas video.

    Zelenska: She painted herself, other children, the cameramen, the director ...She was truly a wonderful, cheerful, happy child.

    After Liza was killed, Zelenska posted a photo on social media of her stroller covered in blood.

    Zelenska: This terrible news really hit me. It's scary. It's always scary when children die, but when they die in such a cruel way ... She really was a wonderful girl, and I honestly can't even fully describe my feelings. It was a heavy blow for me.

    Appealing to the world for support

    In July, Zelenska traveled to the US, where she met with President Biden and first lady Jill, and addressed Congress.

    Zelenska addressing members of US Congress. She called the war "Russia's Hunger Games" and asked for more weapons.

    Zelenska: I asked for air defense systems, because we need to know that our children are protected. But the worst thing was that while I was in the US, talking about those victims that we already had, Russia attacked more. And then you understand that they kill faster than you have time to speak about it.

    Zelenska is now focusing her efforts on helping victims rebuild their lives. She says many have been wounded by bombs and mines. And according to one estimate, roughly 15 million people in Ukraine will need counseling to deal with trauma and grief.

    As the conflict continues, the number of wounded civilians grows.

    Zelenska: "Cities can be rebuilt, but without people they won't be real cities. They need to be filled by people. So rehabilitation, both physical and mental, is a very important task. I am asking all my partners in different countries to take our military and civilians for prosthetics and rehabilitation. But there is still a huge amount of work to do on mental health. We are under tremendous stress because of the war. That's why we're building a nationwide system of psychological and psychosocial support."

    In July, Zelenska organized The Second Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, which was dedicated to rebuilding and recovery.

    Before the invasion, Zelenska spent a lot of time campaigning to break down physical, gender, age and other barriers in Ukrainian society. And now that task seems more important than ever.

    Zelenska: We must understand that after this war ends, all these people who have suffered from injuries and disease must regain their place in society. So society should be barrier-free and tolerant. It's very important and we are working towards this continuously.

    During NHK's interview with Zelenska, the only time she smiled was when she was asked about her husband.

    Zelenska's expression brightened when she heard her husband's name.

    NHK: How is the president?
    Zelenska: Thank you for asking about my husband. He is staying strong. Today I only saw him for two minutes, and he seemed fine. Then he left for work.
    NHK: What do you usually talk with him about?
    Zelenska: You know, we always have something to discuss about our work. There is always some interview or activity of mine that I have to ask him about. Also, some news from home. Recently, our son lost a tooth. I told Zelenskyy about it during our meeting. So, you see, ordinary things.

    We ended the interview by asking Zelenska what her message to the world would be.

    Zelenska: Don't forget about Ukraine. We must be the focus of attention. If we are not, we will die. I cannot allow this. I ask everyone to do everything in their power to stop Russia. Don't cooperate with Russia, don't trade with Russia. Put pressure on Russia, so it has no choice but to leave us alone.

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