Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska warns children are ‘losing the will to live’ over Russia’s war

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Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, has issued a plea for help as she warns that the country’s children are “losing the will to live” due to the struggle to retrieve tens of thousands of children who have disappeared into Russia. In an exclusive interview with Independent TV, Zelenska revealed that Ukrainian authorities are preparing to launch a new initiative with international partners to locate and bring back at least 19,500 abducted children believed to be in Russian territory. However, she believes this estimate is too low, as reports suggest that Russia has emptied entire orphanages. So far, only 380 missing children have been returned to Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his child ombudsman for the alleged war crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. Zelenska sees this as a powerful message to the world and hopes it will lead to practical implementation to bring Putin to justice. However, she acknowledges that this is just one of many problems that children in Ukraine are facing since the Russian invasion.

Zelenska emphasizes that the impact on children is part of a broader mental health crisis that is affecting Ukraine after the invasion. She expresses particular concern for the hidden survivors of sexual violence, as the true number of cases is likely much higher than the 100 currently under investigation. Many victims are too ashamed to come forward due to the fear of stigma. Zelenska describes sexual violence as the most stigmatized and terrible war crime, as the victims suffer for their entire lives. She adds that it also destroys families.

In the interview, Zelenska warns that a Russian victory in the war would be a threat to all humanity. She urges Western partners to accelerate their humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine, as the country’s soldiers are sacrificing their lives to preserve democracy. In response to her plea, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace assures that Britain will support Ukraine in every way possible until the war is over.

Zelenska also speaks passionately about her work in reconstruction projects across the war-torn country. She wants to redefine the role of first lady, going beyond a decorative position. In September, she will host a summit of first ladies and gentlemen aimed at forming a global group that can collaborate on joint projects, with a focus on mental health. Zelenska believes that first ladies can do more than just stand beside the head of state, and she has witnessed the positive response from their community.

The full interview with Zelenska is available to watch on The Independent’s website and smart TVs. She discusses the urgent issues facing Ukraine, including the plight of missing children, the mental health crisis, and the importance of international support. Additionally, she highlights her efforts to redefine the role of first lady and build a global network of leaders dedicated to impactful projects. To learn more, viewers can visit or use the smart TV app.

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