The Washington Post

Ukraine’s first lady says son now only wants to be soldier

- BY ANNABELLE TIMSIT

Before the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s son liked to dance, and play sports and music — activities a typical 9-year-old would enjoy.

But when missiles began to rain down on Ukraine, he started dreaming of picking up a rifle, his mother, Olena Zelenska, says.

Now, Kyrylo, a boy who previously enjoyed folk dance, sports club, learning English and playing the piano, wants to be a soldier, like many young Ukrainian boys, the first lady told NBC News in an emotional interview Wednesday.

“The only thing he wants to do is martial arts and how to use a rifle,” Zelenska said, her voice breaking as she spoke in Ukrainian through an interprete­r.

Zelenska, who was in the United States this week to address Congress and lobby for more U.S. weapons for Ukraine, said she hopes to end the war and restore her son’s childhood. “That’s what I really want to ensure, is that . . . he enjoys his life to the fullest,” she said.

In her address to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, Zelenska focused heavily on the cost of the war on children in Ukraine, and she appealed to politician­s as parents to give Ukraine more weapons to combat Russia’s advance.

“Today, I want to address you as politician­s and party representa­tives as well as mothers and fathers, grandmothe­rs and grandfathe­rs, daughters and sons,” she said. “I want to address you not as first lady, but as a daughter and as a mother.”

During her speech, Ukraine’s first lady pulled up slides that showed photos of children she said have been killed or maimed by Russian strikes.

“I am asking for air defense systems in order for rockets not to kill children in their strollers . . . and kill entire families,” Zelenska said.

Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced by the war, and more than 5 million of them are in need of humanitari­an assistance, the United Nations said about two months ago.

It’s impossible to verify how many children have been killed or injured on the ground, as the fighting is ongoing and many places are inaccessib­le to observers. But the Office of the U.N. High Commission­er for Human Rights has confirmed that at least 346 have died and 547 have been injured as of July 17 — though it believes that the actual figures are considerab­ly higher.

Children have been killed in strikes on residentia­l buildings and hospitals, in evacuation cars and buses, and outside on the street. Many have seen violence and destructio­n, or have lost family members. Sick children have had to be transferre­d to other countries for treatment, and millions have fled their home.

In an interview with Vogue published in April, Zelenska said Russia’s invasion had spurred every Ukrainian into action — including Kyrylo and her daughter, Oleksandra, 18. “I’ve seen this raise the deepest patriotic feelings in our children,” she said at the time. “Not only my children but all the children of Ukraine. They will grow up to be patriots and defenders of their homeland.”

 ?? JABIN Botsford/the Washington Post ?? Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska arrives Wednesday to deliver remarks about the country’s defense to members of Congress.
JABIN Botsford/the Washington Post Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska arrives Wednesday to deliver remarks about the country’s defense to members of Congress.

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