On the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, which is taking place in New York, First Lady Olena Zelenska took part in a high-level event "Fighting for the Future: Ukrainian Children in War."
The purpose of the discussion is to inform about the urgent needs and problematic issues in the field of child protection in times of war, in overcoming which Ukraine needs the help of the international community, as well as to once again draw attention to the horrific crimes against children committed daily by the Russian occupiers in Ukraine, and to the problem of returning deported children.
The participants of the event were: President of the Republic of Estonia Alar Karis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia Margus Tsahkna, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium Hadja Lahbib, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and member of the U.S. National Security Council Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the First Ladies of Austria, Poland, Lithuania, Finland, the wife of the President of the European Council and other representatives of UN member states. Ukraine was also represented by Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets, and co-founder and chairman of the board of the Children's Voices charity foundation Olena Rozvadovska.
The First Lady addressed the participants, describing the situation in which Ukrainian children have found themselves due to the Russian invasion.
“These days, it is one month since another Russian missile fired at the city of Chernihiv has killed 6-year-old Sofia. She was spending a weekend with her family in the city center. In a few days, she was to start first grade at school. Officially, 504 children have been killed since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Hundreds more have suffered injuries that will last a lifetime,” the President’s wife noted.
She added that Russia has abducted more than 19,000 Ukrainian children, and these are only the cases that are known for certain. In reality, there are many more. So far, Ukraine has returned 386 of its young citizens.
The Office of the Prosecutor General has recorded 231 cases of sexual violence committed by the Russian military. These cases are being investigated by Ukrainian prosecutors. There are 13 children among the victims: 12 girls and 1 boy. The youngest victim was only 4 years old.
“These are only the cases that they and their relatives dared to tell investigators about. This is what childhood looks like in Ukraine today,” the First Lady said.
Olena Zelenska called on UN representatives and member states to help Ukrainian children: “I, on behalf of all children in Ukraine, ask you to make personal efforts to ensure that they do not suffer anymore. So that the terrible counter of victims stops. So that the 13 children sexual abuse of which we know for sure about are not forgotten. Their stories must be verified by the UN, and in your annual report next year, the Russian perpetrators must be included in the "List of Shame" for this terrible crime. Help us obtain data on children abducted by Russia. Help stop their assimilation and passportization in the aggressor country, because it is forced. Help stop the interrogation, torture and imprisonment of children in Russia. Help stop the shelling of Ukrainian settlements. Help take children out of the occupied territories through safe special corridors. And we call on the entire democratic world to ensure that war criminals are punished.”
She emphasized that not only do Ukrainian children need help, but the world needs it, because it means restoring justice and human rights, including those of children.
“When childhood is under threat in one country, it is under threat everywhere,” the First Lady summarized.