If Russia wins now it’s the worst-case scenario for humanity, warns Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska

Independent TV Exclusive: In a rare interview, Ms Zelenska talks about her concerns for her nation and her family – while offering a clear message to the world

Bel Trew
Kyiv
Thursday 03 August 2023 09:14 BST
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What Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelensky wants the world to know

Ukraine’s first lady has warned that Russia winning the war it started is “the worst-case scenario for all humanity”, in a heartfelt plea for the world not to lose interest in her country as its soldiers are fighting for “the democratic balance of the world”.

Speaking exclusively to Independent TV, Olena Zelenska said Ukraine is deeply concerned that the world is underestimating the wider threat from Moscow as the conflict grinds into its 18th month.

Read the full interview here

The Ukrainian military has been fighting one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts since the Second World War after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his invasion last February.

“If the aggressor wins now, it will be the worst-case scenario for all of humanity,” Ms Zelenska said from the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kyiv.

“This will mean that global deterrents aren’t working. This will mean that anyone with power, strength and sufficient financial capacity can do whatever they want.”

She said that her country desperately needs “faster” support to be able to combat the better-equipped Russian troops; pledges of long-term military and humanitarian aid will not help win the war if delivery is too slow, she warned.

“We keep hearing from our Western partners that they will be with us as long as it takes. ‘Long’ is not the word we should use. We should use the word ‘faster’,” she said.

“Ukrainians are paying for this war with the lives of our compatriots. The rest of the world pays with its resources. These are incomparable things, so we urge you to speed up this help,” she added.

Zelenska (right) sits down with our correspondent Bel Trew
Zelenska (right) sits down with our correspondent Bel Trew (Anton Kulakowskiy)

Ms Zelenska, a comedy screenwriter and childhood sweetheart of Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky, initially shunned the public spotlight, advising her husband against running for president four years ago.

But as soon as Mr Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, she gave up her day job to become an ambassador for Ukraine, rallying international support and becoming one of the key architects trying to rebuild the country even as the fighting rages on.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Zelenska opened up about the concerns she has for Ukraine and her family, with her and her husband being forced to live separately for security reasons – so the president rarely gets the chance to see their children.

“I want to be together again. We really hope that somehow all this will change and we will be able to live a more or less normal family life,” she said.

Her message to nations around the globe? “Please don’t get fatigued, because we as Ukrainians have no right to get tired.

“Ukraine defends not only its interests, not only its life. We are trying to maintain the whole democratic balance in the world.”

Russia’s invasion has left an untold number of the population dead. Civilians have also been subjected to rape, torture, and abductions.

Olena Zelenska: ‘Can Ukraine endure? We have no other way out’
Olena Zelenska: ‘Can Ukraine endure? We have no other way out’ (Anton Kulakowskiy)

In recent weeks, the Russian army has cynically targeted farms, ports and food storage facilities, after President Putin pulled out of a United Nations-brokered grain deal which allowed the safe export of Ukraine’s grain and oil via the Black Sea.

Moscow has also unleashed drones and missiles at the port of Odesa and the region’s river ports, which are being used as alternative routes for grain.

In the latest attack, on Wednesday, Odesa’s port infrastructure was struck again, damaging 40,000 tonnes of grain earmarked for Africa and the Middle East.

This has sparked fears of famine-like conditions in vulnerable parts of the world that have long relied on Ukrainian produce.

“We are no longer surprised by anything,” Ms Zelenska said about the Russian leader’s tactics and the resulting hunger, as her country has bounded from crisis to crisis.

Watch the interview trailer below

What Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelensky wants the world to know

The full interview will be available to watch on The Independent’s website and on your smart TV from August 7.

In June, the Russian bombing of the Kakhovka Dam unleashed the waters from one of Europe’s largest reservoirs over swathes of the south of the country, causing one of the worst ecological disasters. That followed massive missile attacks on energy and electricity infrastructure over winter, causing blackouts, cold and water shortages.

“Ukrainians understand that our enemy is capable of inventing any challenges for us. Therefore, we are not surprised, people are waiting for news, for good news,” Ms Zelenska said.

She also spoke about her work as first lady and with the Olena Zelenska Foundation, which she launched in September and is endorsed by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Matt Damon.

The projects, which the first lady said “keeps her motivated”, range from reconstructing hospitals and prosthetic centres – providing rehabilitation for up to 20,000 amputees across the country – to combat post-traumatic stress disorder and offering aid to those suffering mental damage in her war-ravaged country.

In September, she will host a summit welcoming other partners of leaders from around the world as part of a drive to redefine the roles of presidential partners from “decorative” accessories to a broader collective running humanitarian projects together.

Ms Zelenska is acutely aware of the daily struggles many Ukrainian families face.

“Can Ukraine endure? We have no other way out, because the longer we endure it, the longer we live,” she said. “It is a matter of survival.”

The full interview will be available to watch on independent.tv and your smart TV from August 7.

To find out more about our Independent TV smart TV app click here.

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