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Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska visits White House

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Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska visited the White House on Tuesday, part of her high-profile trip to Washington as the Russian war in her country enters its sixth month.

Zelenska arrived at the White House just after 1:30 p.m. and was greeted on the South Lawn by President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. The president handed Zelenska a bouquet of yellow sunflowers, blue hydrangeas and white orchids – reminiscent of the colors of the Ukrainian flag – and the first lady hugged Zelenska.

The group, including Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, posed for a photo at the south entrance to the White House, flanked by an American flag and a Ukrainian flag. They didn’t answer shouted questions from reporters about what they would discuss.

Zelenska and Jill Biden had a private meeting and then held an extended meeting with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations; Isobel Coleman, the deputy administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; and second Mr Douglas Emhoff.

Tuesday’s visit to the White House was not the first meeting for Zelenska and Jill Biden. In May, over Mother’s Day weekend, Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine and met Zelenska in Uzhhorod, a town on the border with Slovakia, as well as Ukrainian refugees.

Beginning their private meeting Tuesday, Jill Biden recalled the “grief and pain” of the war zone and told Zelenska that her team had been working on ways to help with the mental health of Ukrainian mothers and children forced to flee their homes. .

Zelenska met on Monday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power to “address the long-term psychosocial consequences of the Russian war” in Ukraine, the White House said.

Earlier Tuesday, Zelenska visited the new Victims of Communism Museum in Washington to receive a human rights award on behalf of the people of Ukraine. In comments at the museum, Zelenska noted that there were three photos of Ukrainian dissidents who had been tortured or expelled for “questioning the cult of Stalin.” She compared it to some of the atrocities Ukrainians had endured over the past five months as a result of the Russian invasion.

“Through all this suffering and pain, we are sending a strong warning to war: remember that the darkest past can be easily defeated,” Zelenska said. “In certain places, the darkness has never gone away. It just figured out how to operate more advanced weapons and use social media. And so we are not only fighting for our freedom today, we are fighting so that the great terror of Stalin will no longer be repeated anywhere in the civilized world.”

The mention of Joseph Stalin was intentional. In the early 1930s, the Soviet dictator conducted a policy that led to massive famine in Ukraine. During that period, an estimated 4 million people, also known as the Holodomor, or starvation, died.

Cut off from food, Ukrainians recall famine under Stalin

On Wednesday morning, Zelenska will address Congress to provide an update on the security, economic and humanitarian conditions on the ground in Ukraine. The comments come less than two months after Congress approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May that includes $20 billion in military aid, nearly $8 billion in economic aid, nearly $5 billion in global food aid and more than $4 billion in global aid. 1 billion in combined support for refugees.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues Tuesday about Zelenska’s upcoming visit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) emphasized the toll on women and girls the war has taken in Ukraine, a topic she says is of particular concern to women in Congress.

“During visits by Ukrainian leaders – from MPs to folk heroes – many of us have heard horrific stories about the brutal treatment of women and girls by Russian troops,” Pelosi wrote. “Indeed, we have ample evidence of kidnappings and deportations to Russia, rape of women in front of relatives and even rape of little girls. … Let me be clear: rape of children cannot be a weapon of war. It is a war crime!”

At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that his family was a prime target for Russian troops. In a rare joint interview with him in May, Zelenska said she and her two children hadn’t seen Zelensky for 2½ months after the war started, because they were hiding in a secret location outside of him.

“Our family was torn apart, just like any other Ukrainian family,” Zelenska said at the time.

Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.


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