Ukraine’s first lady expected in Israel next week at invitation of Michal Herzog

Olena Zelenska slated to meet president’s wife; invitation was extended at last month’s London coronation of King Charles

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska pays her respects as she passes the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Westminster in London on September 18, 2022. (Jacob King/POOL/AFP)
Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska pays her respects as she passes the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Westminster in London on September 18, 2022. (Jacob King/POOL/AFP)

Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska is expected next week in Israel, where she will be hosted by her Israeli counterpart Michal Herzog.

Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is slated to land in Israel early next week, according to diplomatic officials who noted that the dates are not yet finalized.

The visit will focus on post-trauma initiatives.

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel would not confirm the dates.

Zelenska is expected to visit Ukrainian soldiers undergoing rehabilitation in Israel, among other meetings which were likely to include Israeli officials. Wounded Ukrainian soldiers began arriving in Israel for treatment last September, and 11 have returned home thus far.

Israel’s first lady first invited Zelenska in April.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal are greeted at the airport in Baku by Jewish schoolchildren from the Chabad Or Avner school, May 30, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO).

In May, President Isaac Herzog and Michal renewed the invitation to Zelenska during their extended conversation ahead of King Charles III’s coronation ceremony in London.

Zelenska has been meeting world leaders to discuss humanitarian support for her country and to underscore the suffering of Ukrainian civilians since Russian forces invaded in February of last year.

She met US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in the White House in July 2022, and addressed a joint session of the US Congress. She has also visited London, Seoul, Paris, and Abu Dhabi, among other capitals, to meet other first ladies to push for increased aid for Ukrainians, especially children.

US First lady Jill Biden, left, greets Olena Zelenska, spouse of Ukrainian’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, outside of School 6, a public school that has taken in displaced students in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Herzog and Zelenska have spoken several times during the war. In May 2022, Zelenska invited Israel’s first lady to join in her national program for psychological support. They have cooperated occasionally since then, including on two visits by Ukrainian mental health professionals — mainly psychologists and therapists — to Israel to learn from Israeli trauma experts, the first working with Metiv: The Israel Psychotrauma Center and the second with NATAL: the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center.

Before the war, Herzog also participated remotely in the Kyiv Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen that Zelenska hosted in 2021.

Though Israel has not provided Ukraine with the defensive weapons systems it has asked for, it has been active in providing medical and rehabilitation assistance.

Sheba Medical Center ran a field hospital in western Ukraine, away from the front lines, for six weeks shortly after Russia invaded, where 6,200 people were treated. In addition, 204 Ukrainian professionals have participated in trauma programs in Israel run by MASHAV, Israel’s international development organizations, and more than 2,500 joined online programs. Israel also donated four armored ambulances and hundreds of tons of humanitarian equipment.

Two Ukrainian soldiers who were injured in the war in Ukraine arrive at Sheba medical center, September 26, 2022. (Sheba Medical Center via Twitter; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Last month, four Israeli ministries put on the Ukrainian-Israeli Rehabilitation Summit in Lviv, bringing Israel’s experience in physical and psychological recovery to Ukraine as it continues to fight Russian forces. Michal Herzog also addressed that conference virtually.

Jerusalem is “currently looking into expanding our involvement in physical and psychological rehabilitation in Ukraine,” Ambassador Michael Brodsky told The Times of Israel.

As part of that effort, the possibility of opening an Israeli-run center in Ukraine is being examined.

Israel has turned down requests to send weapons to Ukraine, due to the tightrope it has tried to walk between its interests between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia maintains a military presence in Syria, Israel’s northern and bellicose neighbor. The need to balance security interests at home and policy abroad has produced a relatively restrained response from successive Israeli governments, which have tried to maintain relations with both Moscow and Kyiv.

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