‘Putin is a monster’: UK must help punish Russian war crimes, Ukraine’s first lady says

World

Ukraine’s first lady has urged the UK to lead the way in the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute Russia for aggression against her nation – as she stressed that “just to stop the war is really the first step”.

Speaking to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews programme, Olena Zelenska said Russia is using sexual violence as “a weapon” and that she wants Rishi Sunak’s government and MPs to help “find and punish those who perpetrated the war crimes”.

Ms Zelenska claimed the youngest girl who was raped by the Russian occupiers was four years old and that the oldest survivor was 85.

Promising to raise her wish with the prime minister, Ms Zelenska said: “And, of course, until justice is done, we will not feel safe.”

She continued: “I haven’t had the chance to discuss with the prime minister yet, but I hope that I will do during the visit. So I’ve got the chance to do that and I know that the prime minister discussed it with the president of Ukraine.

“It’s not an immediate solution. It can’t be resolved just by a request. There’s quite a complex number of players here, so that to start to kick-start the process.

“But the key thing is that what we do hope that the prime minister’s leadership will actually prevail and lead to the creation of this.”

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Put to her that the International Criminal Court has only convicted two people for rape in the last 20 years and that it is evidently hard to get justice, Ukraine’s first lady admitted it will be a “battle” – but said if the Ukrainian state and victims fight for justice together, “we will manage together”.

Asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin has any conscience or is “simply a monster”, Ms Zelenska replied: “The second one.”

She also disclosed that she has no direct message for the Russian leader.

“I’ll be very honest with you. I do not want to talk to him directly, ever. I do not want to be in that situation,” Ms Zelenska said.

Probed on how important it is that President Putin faces justice for the crimes he has committed or has asked people to commit in Ukraine, the nation’s first lady stressed that all those complicit in crimes should be reprimanded.

“I think it’s not just one person as Putin, we are talking about collective Putin and we think that, and I think that, the whole collective Putin should be punished,” she said.

First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska (right) is greeted by Rishi Sunak's wife Akshata Murty outside 10 Downing Street
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Ukraine’s first lady met Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty on Monday

In a deeply personal interview, Ms Zelenska – a mother of two children, the youngest being just nine years old – also described how the war in Ukraine is impacting her own family.

“Well, we do talk a lot about our children. Sometimes I feel they adapt faster than adults. They are much braver than adults. Volodymyr and I try to behave in such a way that they are not worried about us and know that everything is OK.

“I feel we’re doing the right thing. My job is to keep them safe. Unfortunately, right now while we are talking, there is an air raid siren in Kyiv.

“At this very moment, my child is being picked up from school and taken home. And now I worry about whether he [my son] will make it home safely.”

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Russia using rape as ‘a weapon’

Asked about her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ms Zelenska discloses that her children “don’t see their father very often” and that she tries “to give them the confidence and stability that they crave”.

“When they see their father, we try to enjoy every minute. But, of course, we are looking forward to the time when we don’t have to watch the time and count the minutes until we all have to go in different directions,” she added.

Ukraine’s first lady told Sky News it is her country’s “main goal” to ensure peace is restored in the nation and that traditional Christmas celebrations can take place in 2023.

But she said Ukrainians will “warm each other with our hearts” this year, as Russia continues to attack the country’s energy infrastructure including transmission lines, power stations and pipelines.

Ms Zelenska also urged Britons to both “enjoy Christmas” and “wish Ukraine peace as well in your Christmas wishes”.

Ukraine’s first lady later reiterated her call for the UK to become a leader in helping her nation achieve “justice” against Russia as she addressed an audience of MPs and peers that included Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer.

In front of both a Union Jack and a Ukrainian flag, she said: “We need to unite the world community just as it happened in January 1942 to support the special tribunal against the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.”

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