During her visit to Great Britain, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, took part in the Conference on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflicts (PSVI Conference). The President’s wife spoke as part of the “Support for the Survivors” panel. She dedicated her speech to helping those who survived sexual violence during the war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine.
The PSVI Conference takes place in London on November 28-29, 2022. It has four main themes: strengthening the global response, prevention, justice and accountability, and supporting survivors and children born of conflict-related sexual violence.
Her Royal Highness Countess of Wessex, Dr. Denis Mukwege, Executive Director of the Global Fund for Survivors, Esther Dingemans, Minister of State, participated in the discussion panel together with the wife of the President of Great Britain (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and UN) Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Baron Ahmad of Wimbledon.
“This is a particularly painful topic for us. The war started by Russia in Ukraine brought the violence of various kinds. Because of Russian missiles, every Ukrainian does not know whether he will return from work or wake up at home. Tens of thousands of our citizens experienced fear and despair, torture and losses during the occupation. But the violence we are going to talk about is particularly severe. Because it is always difficult for the victims to speak and testify about him. It’s the hardest thing for rape victims to discuss,” said the First Lady.
She emphasized that currently, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has documented more than 100 cases of sexual violence. The youngest victim is only 4 years old, and the oldest is 85.
“Our investigators carefully collect and document all information. These are only those cases where the victims found the strength to testify. According to psychologists, a person who has survived violence can testify only when he feels completely safe. So we need to create such security for our victims,” Olena Zelenska added.
The President’s wife called on the world community to help support the victims of Russian violence.
“In Ukraine, centers are being created to help survivors, particularly victims of violence. But our citizens are now escaping from war in Ukraine and worldwide. Among Ukrainians on your streets, you may see victims of violence and not even suspect it, and they will be afraid to ask for special help. So now we need support in setting up rescue centers abroad. We want to start with Germany, the Czech Republic, and other European countries. We see a quadrangle of organizers who could implement it: The Ukrainian state (plus our consulate or embassy in the country), an international donor organization, the country’s government, a Ukrainian public organization that helps displaced people,” she said.
The first lady noted that sexual violence by Russians in Ukraine is not an accident or a temporary deviation.
“This is a type of weapon with which they fight against Ukraine and our people. And we need help in conveying this information to the world,” the President’s wife emphasized.
On the eve of the Conference, a dinner was held for its participants at the invitation of the Countess of Wessex.
In addition, on the first day of the visit, Olena Zelenska held a meeting with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Development of Great Britain, James Cleverley. The First Lady thanked the Secretary of State for his recent visit to Ukraine and the British government for its heavy military and humanitarian support to Ukraine throughout the months of the Russian invasion.
“We in Ukraine greatly appreciate the defense support provided by Great Britain, which helps us survive the war. I know that you discussed the issue of weapons in detail with President Volodymyr Zelensky during your visit to Ukraine. I only want to ask you to help us create an “air shield” over Ukraine as soon as possible. To save the lives of peaceful Ukrainians, to secure critical infrastructure,” she said.
The first lady spoke about the consequences of Russian attacks on critical infrastructure of Ukraine and called on British government officials to recognize Russia as a terrorist country.
“I want to thank Great Britain for supporting Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes because of the Russian war. We know how sensitive the issue of migration is for the United Kingdom. After Russia’s destruction of our critical infrastructure, Ukrainians again began to consider the possibility of temporarily moving to Europe, particularly Great Britain. I hope your government will continue to support them during this winter and until the end of the Russian war,” Olena Zelenska emphasized.
During the meeting, the First Lady of Ukraine thanked London for its support of the UN General Assembly resolution on the compensation mechanism for damages caused to Ukraine by the aggression of the Russian Federation and called on Great Britain to recognize Russia as a terrorist state and to support Ukraine’s initiative to create a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
“Just as victims of sexual violence must be sure that their perpetrators will be held accountable, so the entire Ukrainian society must know that all those who gave criminal orders will be punished,” the President’s wife emphasized.
Olena Zelenska also held a meeting with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Rishi Sunak, and his wife, Akshata Murthy.
She invited the wife of the Prime Minister to participate in the Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, launched in Kyiv in 2021. The second summit took place on July 23, 2022 in the Ukrainian capital and gathered twice as many participants. Its topic was restoring our country: “Ukraine and the world: the future that we (re)build together.”
“From my own experience and that of our colleagues, I now know for sure: first ladies are more than soft power. This is quite a powerful force, which can also do a lot to defeat aggression and establish justice,” said Olena Zelenska.
During the meeting, cultural and educational projects for the children of forced migrants were discussed, particularly the “Ukrainian bookshelf” project, which involves filling the world’s libraries with Ukrainian literature in the original and translations.
The First Lady of Ukraine spoke about the work of the Olena Zelenska Foundation and the Foundation’s three main areas of activity (humanitarian aid, medicine and education), which citizens of Great Britain and other countries of the world can use to help rebuild Ukraine and help victims of Russian aggression.
In addition, Olena Zelenska held a meeting with the team of the Ukrainian service of the BBC and got acquainted with the corporation’s management. She noted the leading role of the world media in reporting the truth about the full-scale invasion of Russia.
“In the daily fight against Russian propaganda, we really need the support of professional journalists of the world who will not let the truth get lost,” the wife of the President of Ukraine emphasized.