Source: ABC News
With targets on the backs of her and her husband and from an undisclosed safe place, Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska sent out a desperate two-word plea to America and the world: "STOP WAR."
In an exchange of written messages with ABC News, Zelenska described the blitz of Russian missiles raining on Ukraine and the deaths of civilians, including at least 71 children, as "genocide."
"I guess my message is very similar to the one the whole world delivers. Only two simple words: STOP WAR," the 44-year-old Zelenska wrote, unable to speak by phone or in-person due to high-security risks.
'Help us stop Russian atrocity'
After her husband of 18 years, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was elected president of Ukraine in 2019, Zelenska launched an initiative as the first lady to improve the quality and nutrition of food in schools. But on Feb. 24, her priorities were dramatically altered when Russian tanks and troops invaded her country, leaving crisscrossed trails of destruction and death and prompting a diaspora of refugees, now topping 2.8 million.
Zelenska has become an inspiration to women across her war-torn land and the world, an outspoken mother of two beseeching the West to "help us to stop Russian atrocity in Ukraine."
To reflect the stark realities of war, she has frequently posted images and videos on social media of hospital wards full of wounded citizens. She has also called Putin out for disingenuously describing the invasion as a "special operation."
"When Russia says that it is 'not waging war against civilians,' I call out the names of these murdered children first," she wrote in a 1,000-word "testimony" she publicly released last week.
'I fear for my husband'
In her exchange with ABC News on Sunday, day 18 of the war, Zelenska said one of her greatest concerns is the well-being of her husband, who Ukrainian officials claim has been the target of several assassination attempts.
"As every woman in Ukraine, now I fear for my husband," Zelenska wrote. "Every morning before I call him, I pray everything goes well. I also know how strong and enduring he is. He is able to withstand anything, especially when he defends people and things that he loves."
Referring to Putin and his supporters in the Kremlin, she expressed doubt as to "whether they have ordinary and sincere human feelings."
"Ask yourself these questions and you will understand the difference of views on this war," she wrote.
'It is genocide'
While imploring the West to help Ukraine, she has not shied away from criticizing Western leaders for being silent in response to Putin's crackdown on the rights of his own citizens and his previous encroachments of her country's borders.
"Today, our country and our civilians pay a very high price for the silence and hesitation regarding this issue. Yesterday, it was innocent women and children in the maternity hospital in Mariupol. We have lost more than 71 children because of the Russian war -- it is genocide of the Ukrainian people," Zelenska wrote to ABC News.
She added, "Moreover, millions of people are suffering in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Irpin, Sumy and other cities. They don't have water, food and medicine. Russian soldiers are blocking humanitarian aid. We need to stop it. By saying 'we,' I mean the whole world."
Zelenska asked "citizens of America, Europe and the whole world" to hold their leaders accountable for "silently observing for decades while the regime, where you cannot express your opinion, where the nation has been turned into slaves, grew and strengthened."
"Leaders have lost their chance for respect. But you haven’t yet!" Zelenska said. "Today, the key life decisions are made in the offices of people who YOU elected as leaders in your countries. These are YOU who gave and keep giving the right to act on your behalf. And when they do not act, when they let our kids die -- these are YOU who give them this right."
She said it "is essential" for the West to understand that Ukraine "is now protecting Europe and our shared values."
"Every day of our fight increases the price that Ukraine pays for securing these values," Zelenska wrote. "Surely, in this fight as a nation, we become stronger and tougher. I wish the sanctions against Russia from the U.S. and E.U. become the same: stronger and tougher."
She repeated her husband's call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a request that has been rejected by the White House and the international community for fears it could start World War III if a Russian military jet is shot down in a confrontation with U.S. and NATO aircraft enforcing such a zone.
"We ask NATO to close our sky on behalf of all the people of Ukraine, or at least provide us with aircraft so we can defend our sky by ourselves," Zelenska wrote.
'You are giving life in the bomb shelters'
Zelenska directed a special message to Ukrainian women.
"You are giving life in the bomb shelters, calming children with lullabies, while Russian aviation keeps destroying our peaceful Ukrainian cities," she wrote. "I admire your power. The power that becomes tougher than a hammer."
She also directed a message specifically to American women.
"I appeal to you, women in America, and ask to support Ukrainian women and children who escaped from war and are looking for a shelter in your country," she said. "These days every act of kindness and humanism is vital while we are bravely fighting for freedom for Ukraine, for Europe, for the whole world."