During her visit to Great Britain, First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska took part in the Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI Conference). The President's wife spoke as part of the "Support to Survivors" panel and 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 at the Global Survivors Fund Esther Dingemans, Special Representative of the Prime Minister for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflicts Aina Jasik, UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and UN Lord Ahmad Wimbledon also took part in the panel discussion together with the wife of the President of Ukraine.
"This is a particularly painful topic for us. The war started by Russia in Ukraine brought 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 it. It's the hardest thing for rape victims to talk about it," 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 or she feels completely safe. So we need to create such safety 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 fleeing from war not only in Ukraine, but all over the world. 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 centers of assistance for survivors 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 in the country 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 their 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 Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom James Cleverly. The First Lady thanked the Secretary of State for his recent visit to Ukraine, as well as the British government for its significant 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 endure the war. I know that you discussed the issue of weapons in detail with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during your visit to Ukraine. The only thing I would like to ask you is to help us create an "air shield" over Ukraine as soon as possible. To save the lives of Ukrainian civilians, 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 would like 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 the beginning of the destruction of our critical infrastructure by Russia, Ukrainians again began to consider the possibility of temporarily moving to Europe, in particular to Great Britain. I hope that 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 abusers will be held accountable, the entire Ukrainian society needs to know that all those who gave criminal orders will be punished," the President's wife emphasized.
Olena Zelenska also held a meeting with Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 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 the restoration of 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, in particular 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 join to help rebuild Ukraine and help victims of Russian aggression.
In addition, Olena Zelenska held a meeting with the team of the Ukrainian BBC and got acquainted with the management of the corporation. 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 be lost," the wife of the President of Ukraine emphasized.