First Lady Olena Zelenska shares details of her visit to New York during the UN General Assembly

23 September, 06:52 PM
Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York (Photo:Olena Zelenska/Telegram)

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York (Photo:Olena Zelenska/Telegram)

Tired, but satisfied Olena Zelenska meets the Ukrainian journalists somewhere in Manhattan on Sept. 23 – the last day of her 3-day visit to New York. Zelenska came to the U.S. together with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to represent Ukraine at the 77th United Nations General Assembly. 

During her brief visit, she had several high-level meetings, launched a charity foundation, and held the first fundraiser at Metropolitan Opera. The first lady attended the General Assembly, proudly observed the standing ovation her husband’s speech got at the UN, and got assurances that partners will continue to support Ukraine.  

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During the meeting with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Zelenska asked him to persuade Russian officials to share information on the whereabouts of more than 7000 Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia.

“I have to take every opportunity to do the work. And I can say that the support is still huge for Ukraine, “Zelenska said. “So many people were approaching me and asking what else can they do, how else can they help.”

The visit to General Assembly helped the Ukrainian first lady to meet new people, new heads of state, as well as first ladies she already knew. “I can say that we’ve almost talked like friends. No more formal speeches. We immediately get to the point.”

At every meeting with other first ladies, Zelenska talked about Ukrainian refugees, living in their countries. More than 7,5 million Ukrainians, mostly women, and children have fled only to other European countries since February, UNHCR has reported.  Overall 14 million Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes due to Putin’s war, according to the UN.

Thousands of Ukrainian kids went to foreign schools in September. The first lady of France Brigitte Macron told Zelenska that Ukrainian children are brilliant.

“I was pleased to hear they learn foreign languages very fast. Yet I urged our partners to allow our kids to include Ukrainian language, literature, and history studies in their curriculum,” Zelenska said.

“It can be done if they also join Ukrainian school studies online.”

Zelenska has also discussed the ongoing evacuation of Ukrainians diagnosed with different forms of cancer, and other patients for treatment abroad. “We are creating a community with other first ladies, where everyone is on the same page,” Zelenska said.

On Sept. 21 Zelenska attended Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s pre-recorded speech at the General Assembly Hall. She liked the vibe of the assembly and was proud when she saw more and more people showing up in the half-empty hall just before her husband was supposed to speak.

“That meant people wanted to hear what he had to say,” Zelenska said. More than 100 countries voted for the resolution to allow Zelenskyy to address the assembly via video conference, with only seven countries voting against it.

Zelenska curiously observed the reaction of those seven delegations during the standing ovation in the hall after Zelenskyy’s speech ended. “They looked awkward and insecure. It felt good for me,” Ukraine’s first lady said.

The next evening, on Sept. 22 Zelenska presented The Olena Zelenska Foundation, a charity aimed to help the renovation of Ukraine. “People want to help Ukraine. They donate to many big international foundations. Yet they want to know where their money goes,” Zelenska said.

Through her foundation, the Ukrainian first lady wants to connect the donors with those getting their help. “The foundation will be aimed at restoration of hospitals, educational and other social infrastructure facilities. We directly know what we need to rebuild from the Ukrainian regional councils that provide us the information,” Zelenska said.

“People here are amazed by the resilience of Ukrainians. And that inspires me so much,” Zelenska said.

Ukrainian first lady also met British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Sept. 21 in New York. Truss reaffirmed her support for Ukraine and promised the UK will help to rebuild Kyiv's Oblast towns and villages destroyed by the Russian invasion.

The United Kingdom will continue to send military aid to Ukraine and will allocate 3 million pounds to support Ukrainian scientists who were forced to flee the country. “The UK remains one of the biggest partners of Ukraine. They are involved in so many projects,” Zelenska said.

 During the meetings with Truss and Guterres Zelenska once again urged leaders to help Ukraine get information about the whereabouts of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia. Russian authorities claim more than 500,000 Ukrainian children were relocated to Russia since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Yet Zelenska said Russian data can’t be trusted. “According to our information, more than 7750 Ukrainian children were forcibly taken to Russia. Those children might just disappear in Russia,” Zelenska said. “It is just horrible and we need to talk about it more. We need to search for them.”

Earlier NV reported UN has no access to the Ukrainian children studying in Russia and occupied territories of Ukraine. Therefore, there’s no possibility to verify the information about the mass reeducation of Ukrainian children Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told NV at UN Headquarters in New York on Sept. 15. “Russia, this totalitarian state has closed all doors, cut all ties to the reality,” Zelenska said.

Both Truss and Guterres promised to use all the available diplomatic tools to find out where Russia holds Ukrainian children.

“I hope that with their help the issue will move from a dead point,” Zelenska said.

So far Ukraine has managed to return only 50 children from Russia. About 1,000 kids face adoption in Russian families.

Zelenska came to New York from London, where she visited Queen Elizabeth II's funeral ceremony. She hasn’t seen her kids for more than a week. The same week her older daughter Oleksandra started her studies at one of the universities of Kyiv. “She studies online so I am not worried about her. While my son goes to school. And that is always worrying,” Zelenska said.

During the high-level meetings, Zelenska was constantly checking the air raid alarm app on her phone. “It is very unsettling when you see an air raid siren in Kyiv Oblast while your son is there,” Zelenska said. “So far both tell me they are fine. They do their homework and eat their breakfast. My son takes his emergency kit to school with him.”

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