Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska said she is distressed by Russia’s ongoing war in the country “like any normal person” would be under the circumstances.
“Everyone is doing their best to relieve their own pain and reduce the pain of others. If that can be called ‘enduring’, then I’m enduring,” Zelenska told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
“Perhaps I should say something very bold and epic, but I am human after all, and as any normal person, I am hurt,” she said responding to a question on how she is holding up as a mother, wife and individual.
“The first thought that crosses my mind as soon as I turn on the news is: ‘I hope there’s no new shelling.’ When I see Russia has (opened) fire again, I hope: ‘There are no victims.’ But there are because Russia is targeting civilians,” she said.
Zelenska said she shares the pain of all the Ukrainians who have pinned their hopes on securing victory for their nation.
“Some are fighting, while some are providing medical treatment, and we are evacuating sick children in Ukraine …,” she added.
“Medical equipment and incubators for newborns … are brought to Ukraine. After Kyiv and our northern regions were liberated, we started to provide for the needs of households there. And of course, I’m working constantly on the information front to tell what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine, where it supposedly came to save us.”
Recalling a visit by Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and first lady Emine Erdogan to Kyiv only three weeks before the war erupted, she said: “It feels like another life.”
Ukrainian first lady hailed the relationship with her Turkish counterpart, saying “the friendship that began in life before war is continuing and is in fact getting stronger.”
“When we began to search for a safe place for our (orphan) children, Turkiye was among the places we preferred the most,” Zelenska said, adding that she contacted Emine Erdogan for support on the matter.
At least 973 Ukrainian children were evacuated to Turkiye, she said.
“In short, we felt Turkiye’s support not with its words but with its actions.”
Zelenska, who has been in a secret location due to security concerns, stated that “it is a shame to be hidden.”
On reports of Ukrainian women being raped by Russian troops, she said “talking about these events is more horrifying than talking about murders.”
Stating that the memories of atrocities like rape haunt victims forever, she said: “Their lives are broken after rape, but they have to live somehow by picking up their pieces one-by-one.”
She stressed the “the horrifying extent” of such incidents must be told but with great caution to prevent additional trauma to the victims.
Recalling the massacre in Bucha, she said nine Ukrainian women became pregnant.
“We say ‘women’, but there are actually minor girls among them!”
She urged the Ukrainian rape victims to come out and share their stories. “You are valuable. Your lives are valuable. What happened to you is the fault of armed maniacs. Please don’t be silent, don’t hold this pain inside, talk to us, talk to people you trust.”
About co-operation with the US, she said first lady Jill Biden did not contact her directly, but she hopes to work together with her.
“Since the first day of the war, I have been receiving letters from my counterparts, wives of world leaders. The letters which were of support initially, later turned into letters with a clear offer of help,” she said.
Longing for victory
On the possibility of peace, the first lady repeated a phrase “if you want peace, prepare for war.”
“We believe in our future and moreover in our victory. We are ready for any distance that would lead to victory. If this victory comes sooner than we expect, we would of course be more pleased with it,” she added.
At least 2,345 civilians have been killed and 2,919 injured in Ukraine since the war began Feb. 24, according to UN estimates, with the true figure believed to be much higher.
More than 5 million Ukrainians have fled to other countries, with over 7.7 million more internally displaced, said the UN refugee agency.
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