Top Ukrainian officials plead for weapons, investment at Davos forum
DAVOS, Switzerland — The war in Ukraine dominated the agenda of political leaders and business chiefs in Davos on Tuesday, as top officials from Kyiv — including First Lady Olena Zelenska — kept up the pressure on Western allies for more weapons and investment.
As Russia’s invasion drags into its second year, Zelenska made an emotional appeal from the World Economic Forum’s main stage in which she said the “traumatized” people of Ukraine must not be forgotten.
She urged that the war be seen through the “eyes of the people whose lives have been brought into chaos,” before listing a series of horrors faced by Ukrainians every day.
Picture the “parents who are crying in an ICU as doctors fight for the life of their wounded child,” families who have lost their homes and the farmer who cannot return to work the land due to the danger of mines, she said.
She drew attention to the recent strike on an apartment block in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro that killed more than 40 people saying: “There is nothing off limits for Russia.”
“We are facing the collapse of the world as we know it,” Zelenska said, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens to overrun borders beyond Ukraine.
While the focus of Zelenska’s speech centered on the emotional toll of war, Polish President Andrzej Duda’s drew attention to the grinding battles by Ukrainian forces to recapture territory in the east.
Duda, speaking at a panel on European defense, said there was “one” message Kyiv’s friends needed to heed: “Weapons, weapons, and once again weapons ... this is the most important element.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is due to address the forum on Wednesday, has been imploring his allies for more firepower, including the Germanbuilt Leopard 2 battle tanks.
He’s found some success: Britain and Poland recently vowed to send tanks. But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz remains reluctant to commit to the transfer of Leopard 2s. His address on Wednesday is one of the most anticipated of the schedule — and the only one by a Group of Seven (G7) leader.
Elsewhere, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said Kyiv needed all available weapons “to squeeze Russia from our territory” — but that military support alone would not make Ukraine whole again.
She made the pitch for international firms to do their part, asking them “to come to Ukraine and participate in our recovery,” either by direct investment or facilitating help for Ukrainian businesses.
Svyrydenko said there were 7 million Ukrainians living abroad, the vast majority of whom want to return home and be able to find a job.
Oleksiy Chernyshov, head of Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz, also said that attracting investors was critical in the long-term, but “the short-term task is to survive through the winter.”
He said utility crews making constant repairs to the critical infrastructure that Russia has repeatedly attacked since October 10, depriving Ukrainians of heat, water and gas.
The goal was to eventually reconstruct and modernize “the whole system.” Only “duct tapetype” repairs were being made at the moment, Chernyshov said.
In another of Tuesday’s major speeches, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said there will be “no let-up” in the European Union’s support for Ukraine.
The E.U. was “in it for as long as it takes and stand by our Ukrainian friends,” she said, amid fears of growing war fatigue as European citizens feel the consequences of the invasion in their pocketbooks.