Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for saying her husband is not really Jewish, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“It is very disgraceful,” Zelenska said on Tuesday. “I don’t know how, in the political context, you can discuss somebody’s ethnicity at all.”
Putin said earlier this week that his “Jewish friends” say that Ukrainian President Volodymyr “Zelensky is not a Jew; he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said separately on Tuesday that “unfortunately, we did not hear condemnations from the Israeli government and its senior figures.”
“I expect Israel to respond,” he stated. “These insulting words were said by a man recognized as a dictator the world over.”
Zelenska hopeful about Israeli early-warning systems in Kyiv
The Ukrainian first lady mostly avoided political or military subjects, but she expressed hope that the rollout of Israeli early-warning systems for airstrikes can be made quicker.
“I think it’s up to Israel to decide whether or not it is giving enough” aid to Ukraine, Zelenska said. “We know there is tremendous potential in Israel and we know there is technology we desperately need, but it is up to your society to decide whether or not you are giving enough.”
“I think it’s up to Israel to decide whether or not it is giving enough [aid to Ukraine]"Olena Zelenska
Israel has sent humanitarian aid to Kyiv from the start of the war, and tests on missile warning systems in Ukraine began last month. However, Ukraine has asked for military aid, which Israel has not provided, in light of Russia’s continued military presence in Syria.
Yermak called on Jerusalem to allow Ukraine to use Israeli defensive weapons against Iran-made drones used by Russia.
“No country other than Israel has the capabilities Ukraine needs to defend itself,” Yermak said in a briefing to Israeli reporters. “This equipment will be used in Ukraine against Iranian weapons.”
Ukraine knows that it shares an enemy with Israel – Iran – and as such, Yermak said, “We don’t understand why the government and Israeli politicians don’t understand this.”
Zelenska was in Israel this week to continue the joint project with her Israeli counterpart, Michal Herzog, the wife of President Isaac Herzog, to help Ukrainians with mental health issues stemming from the war that began when Russia invaded last year. She visited various Israeli mental health centers, as well as wounded Ukrainian soldiers in Israeli hospitals, and went to Yad Vashem. In addition, she met with the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.
“From the first days of the war, Israel was a model of resilience for us,” Zelenska said. “We could see how you live under war.”
Zelenska wants to help Ukrainian soldiers to convalesce
Zelenska said she hopes her country will adopt the “community resilience centers” found in Israel. Over 2,000 Ukrainian mental health specialists have already been trained by Israel.
“In Ukraine, everyone who faces the public needs this training… We have a program called ‘mental health gap,’ and with the help of Mrs. Michal Herzog, we are instituting these programs. We hope they will be very effective,” she stated.
Asked what life is like as the first lady of a country at war, Zelenska said: “I don’t think my day is all that different from the day of an average Ukrainian woman.”
“I don’t think my day is all that different from the day of an average Ukrainian woman”Olena Zelenska
Zelenska said she starts her day looking at the news, to see where Russian missiles struck overnight. She recounted that a high-rise building in her hometown, which she remembered passing every day for years, was recently hit and 11 were killed.
She described a feeling to which many Israelis can relate: “I know what it feels like when you look at the news, trying to understand what happened, and until you get official confirmation, you don’t know for sure” if your loved ones are among the casualties.
During the day, she said, she goes to the office and works on projects like the mental health program, improving school lunches and helping victims of domestic abuse, and she gives interviews and holds phone and video calls.
Zelenska lives separately from the Ukrainian president, who sleeps in his office for his safety, while she returns to her two children each day.
“If we’re lucky, we meet for lunch in the office,” she said. “None of us can afford any leisure or entertainment at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainians are learning how to live as normally as possible as the war continues.
Zelenska said that one-third of Ukrainian children are able to attend school – and even they regularly have to run to air-raid shelters – while the rest are studying online in “an extended lockdown” that continued even as the COVID-19 pandemic subsided. High schools are holding graduation parties in shelters or the ruins of their schools, she noted.
“I remember the empty streets and the apocalyptic feeling in Kyiv, but over the summer, the city started to be full of life again,” she said. “Sometimes, if you didn’t already know a war was going on, you wouldn’t know it, because the economy is continuing and people are going to work. People thought the banks would be down and the economy would collapse, but somehow we have been able to withstand this.”