Zelensky’s wife to Israeli TV: ‘Your resilience serves as an example for us’

Ukrainian first lady hails cooperation between her country and Israel on mental health issues, as Ukrainian psychologists and therapists visit Israel to learn trauma treatment

Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska is interviewed by Channel 12 news, July 31, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska is interviewed by Channel 12 news, July 31, 2022. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said her nation sees Israel as a source of inspiration for resilience given its history of facing attacks from its neighbors.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Israel’s past experience inspires the citizens of Ukraine,” Zelenska told Channel 12 news in an interview.

“We see the Israelis’ strength and power of resilience in the difficult situation Israel has been in for many years. Your resilience serves as an example for us,” she said in the interview, which was conducted through a remote video connection.

Speaking about Israeli assistance to Ukraine, which has been overwhelmingly limited to humanitarian aid, Zelenska said her country appreciates all the help it can get, specifically Israel’s help in treating wounded Ukrainians. Some Ukrainian officials have called on Israel to provide military aid, but Israel has held off as it tries to preserve its relationship with Russia.

“As you know, Ukraine’s health system is overloaded. That’s why I’m asking for help for Ukraine in any way possible,” Zelenska said.

One area in which Israel has offered assistance is in training Ukrainian mental health professionals for the type of trauma they will likely face in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the country, which is estimated to have killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

In recent months, two groups of mental health professionals — mainly psychologists and therapists — have visited 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. The NATAL workshop was organized in part by Michal Herzog, the wife of President Isaac Herzog.

“According to estimates from the Ukrainian health ministry, roughly 15 million Ukrainian citizens will need help in the area of mental health, so we had no time to waste, we needed to start acting immediately,” Zelenska said.

A woman gathers her belongings from a heavily damaged residential building in Saltivka, a northern district of the second largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on July 31, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)

Zelenska’s interview with Channel 12 was one of many public appearances she has made in recent weeks, after spending weeks in hiding since the start of the war, when she moved from one safe house to the next.

She has since returned to the spotlight on an international charm offensive, addressing the US Congress last week as part of Ukraine’s outreach for Western support in its struggle for survival.

“New crises are popping up all over the world, so maybe people will forget about Ukraine as they’ve forgotten about other crises,” Zelenska said.

“This is exactly what the attacking side wants to achieve. It’s waiting for everyone to get tired, to flood the world with information about economic problems and other issues to silence the voice of Ukraine,” she said.

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 of this year, following months of tensions. Russia initially hoped to overrun Ukraine quickly but has since resigned itself to a long, drawn-out war against its neighbor.

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