Ukraine's first lady calls on World Economic Forum for more help amid Russian war

Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska delivered a special address to the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, urging its leaders to help her country defeat Russian invaders. Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE
1 of 5 | Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska delivered a special address to the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, urging its leaders to help her country defeat Russian invaders. Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska gave a pressing speech on the first day of the World Economic Forum, calling for more international support that would help the country defend itself from continuing attacks by Russia.

Zelenska kicked off the first day of the conference in Davos, Switzerland, as thousands of world leaders met to address several worldwide geopolitical crises, including inflation and climate change, but most notably Russia's war in Ukraine, which is approaching its second year.


Her speech was intended to rally support for Ukraine days after Russian forces bombed an apartment block in Dnipro, killing more than 40 civilians, as she noted that the delegates attending the conference have vast influence to end the war.

"Not all of you are using this influence, or you use it in a way that divides even more," she said.


The ongoing war has worsened the inflation crisis around the world and now threatens to cause mass starvation in Ukraine due to ruined crops as farmlands were freshly rife with hidden explosives, Zelenska told the world's foremost lawmakers, tech industry leaders, and highly touted academicians at the summit.

She called for more intervention from the international community, saying the crisis will worsen unless Russia is defeated.

"This war can go further and make the crisis larger, unless the aggressor loses," Zelenska said.

She also urged renewed partnerships with Ukraine's neighbors, noting that the war had the potential to spill beyond its borders, saying that "unity is what brings the peace back."

"I believe that global business will hear us and respond to the need for reconstruction -- both of Dnipro and dozens of other cities," Zelenska said on Twitter.


Russia's strike in the south-central Ukrainian city of Dnipro on Sunday was the deadliest single attack on civilians since the war began in Feb. 2021, while more than 7,000 civilians have died altogether as a result of the war, the United Nations human rights office said this week.

However, the energy crisis that emerged due to Russia cutting off gas supplies across Europe has had the unintended effect of spurring new support for renewable energy sources in the region.

After her speech, Ukraine's first lady hand-delivered a personal letter from her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, to several leaders at the summit, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and China's vice-premier Liu He, although the content of the letters have not been revealed.

In another special address, von der Leyen told world leaders that Ukraine needs "every helping hand on board" to help with its reconstruction.

She praised Ukraine's "moral and physical courage" as the war rages on with no end in sight.

"Europe's reaction to the war is the latest example of how our Union has pulled together when it matters the most," she said. "In this last year, your country has moved the world and inspired all of Europe. And I can assure you that Europe will always stand with you."


Ahead of the conference on Monday, the European Commission announced the first $3 billion in aid to be given to Ukraine as part of an $18 billion support package to help support hospitals and schools, and for the government to pay wages and pensions.

Von der Leyen also called for more urgency on China as manufacturing was increasingly transferring to the Far East on the promise of cheaper energy, while condemning "unfair practices" and "aggressive attempts to attract our industrial capacities to China or elsewhere."

"We still need to trade and work with China, so we need to refocus our approach on de-risking rather than decoupling," she said. "But competition on net zero must be based on a level playing field. China has been openly encouraging energy-intensive companies in Europe and elsewhere to relocate all or part of their production."

Von der Leyen said companies in the European Union continue to be locked out of China's industrial markets.

"This means using all our tools to deal with unfair practices -- including the new Foreign Subsidies Regulation. We will not hesitate to open investigations if we consider that our procurement or other markets are being distorted by such subsidies" she said.


She also emphasized a clean energy future for Europe that would keep pace with technological advances taking place in the U.S. and China.

Liu He, the Chinese vice premier, said his country was committed to global cooperation in dealing with climate change and rampant inflation, and blasted ongoing interest rate hikes as the wrong road to economic recovery. He also said life was returning to normal in China after a nationwide COVID-19 outbreak that has rattled the country's economy for months.

Polish President Andrzey Duda called on Germany to come on board with a plan to send an outfit of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Also attending the conference were German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, White House climate czar John Kerry, British actor Idris Elba, 50 heads of state, and dozens of CEOs from corporations like Goldman Sachs, Nestle, PepsiCo and Walmart. More than 50 finance ministers, 19 central bank heads, 30 trade ministers, and 35 foreign ministers are also attending the meeting.

Ahead of the summit, each delegate shared insights into the major crises confronting mankind, and how every nation could limit peril in a wide range of categories -- including natural disasters and extreme weather events, wars, cybercrime, terrorist attacks, and global pandemic.


Discussions at the weeklong summit were expected to be dominated by environmental concerns, but will also seek solutions on inflation, food and energy costs, and debt across the global economy.

Members will also consider scaling up renewable energy sources, eliminating carbon emissions, reforming world oil markets, transitioning to clean power generation, and improving energy efficiency by harnessing frontier technologies.

The members at the summit were also seeking a way through the major economic issues facing the world, including inflation, low economic growth, and high unemployment, which were ll was said to be the highest in Europe.

However, some economists predicted the worldwide crisis might reach its peak and weaken by the end of 2023.

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