‘This is war in Europe’: In open letter, Ukraine’s first lady says Putin ‘underestimated our country’

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Kyiv (Ukraine): Amid Russia’s ongoing military operations in Ukraine, the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, has published an open letter on her Facebook page reflecting on what has happened to the country in the past two weeks.

“What happened just over a week ago was impossible to believe. Our country was peaceful; our cities, towns, and villages were full of life. On February 24th, we all woke up to the announcement of a Russian invasion. Tanks crossed the Ukrainian border, planes entered our airspace, missile launchers surrounded our cities,” she started.

“Despite assurances from Kremlin-backed propaganda outlets, who call this a “special operation” – it is, in fact, the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians. Perhaps the most terrifying and devastating of this invasion are the child casualties. Eight-year-old Alice who died on the streets of Okhtyrka while her grandfather tried to protect her. Or Polina from Kyiv, who died in the shelling with her parents. 14-year-old Arseniy was hit in the head by wreckage, and could not be saved because an ambulance could not get to him on time because of intense fires. When Russia says that it is ‘not waging war against civilians,’ I call out the names of these murdered children first,” she added.

Zelenska went on to say that women and children in Ukraine now live in bomb shelters and basements. “You have most likely all seen these images from Kyiv and Kharkiv metro stations, where people lie on the floors with their children and pets – trapped beneath. These are just consequences of war for some, for Ukrainians it now a horrific reality. In some cities families cannot get out of the bomb shelters for several days in a row because of the indiscriminate and deliberate bombing and shelling of civilian infrastructure,” she wrote.

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She went on to add, “The first newborn of the war, saw the concrete ceiling of the basement, their first breath was the acrid air of the underground, and they were greeted by a community trapped and terrorized. At this point, there are several dozen children who have never known peace in their lives. This war is being waged against the civilian population, and not just through shelling.” 

Local communities on social media are full of despair, she said, adding that many people, including the elderly, severely ill and those with disabilities, have been debilitatingly cut off, ending up far from their families and without any support. “War against these innocent people is a double crime,” she noted.

Roads in Ukraine are flooded with refugees, she wrote. 

“The aggressor, Putin, thought that he would unleash blitzkrieg on Ukraine. But he underestimated our country, our people, and their patriotism. Ukrainians, regardless of political views, native language, beliefs, and nationalities, stand in unparalleled unity,” she said. 

“While Kremlin propagandists bragged that Ukrainians would welcome them with flowers as saviors, they have been shunned with Molotov cocktails. I thank the citizens of the attacked cities, who have coordinated to help those in need. Those that keep working – in pharmacies, stores, public transportation, and social services – showing that in Ukraine, life wins. I acknowledge those that have provided humanitarian aid to our citizens and thank you for your continued support. And to our neighbors who have generously opened their borders to provide shelter for our women and children, thank you for keeping them safe, when the aggressor has rendered us unable to do so,” she stated. 

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She added, “In cities where shelling persists, where people find themselves under debris, unable to get out of basements for days, we need safe corridors for humanitarian aid and evacuation of civilians to safety. We need those in power to close our sky!  Close the sky, and we will manage the war on the ground ourselves.”

She concluded: “I testify and tell the world: the war in Ukraine is not a war “somewhere out there.” This is a war in Europe, close to the EU borders. Ukraine is stopping the force that may aggressively enter your cities tomorrow under the pretext of saving civilians.”

“If we don’t stop Putin, who threatens to start a nuclear war, there will be no safe place in the world for any of us. We will win. Because of our unity. Unity towards love for Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine,” she continued.

first published:March 9, 2022, 1:57 a.m.

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