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Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska in the UAE amid the Russian war


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Ukraine’s first lady offered spirited support to her country’s people on Wednesday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, a country that remains open to Russia despite Western sanctions.

Olena Zelenska described her role and that of other first ladies and gentlemen in the world as a real force as she spoke to a packed ballroom on International Women’s Day. She also praised the work of the average Ukrainian during the ongoing war.

“We are a force and we can continue to change the world,” Zelenska said at the Forbes 30/50 Summit through an interpreter.

Zelenska’s trip to the capital of the United Arab Emirates comes as the UAE remains one of the few direct routes from Moscow – both for those fleeing conscription and for the wealthy who want to park their money in a country with access to Western financial markets.

The US Treasury Department has already expressed concern about Russian money flowing into Dubai’s red-hot real estate market. Meanwhile, the superyachts of Russian oligarchs have also repeatedly turned up in the Emirates since the start of Moscow’s war against Ukraine last year.

However, the UAE voted against the Russian invasion at the United Nations and has donated humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made several calls to UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Meanwhile, the UAE hosted the prisoner exchange that saw the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in December.

Zelenska arrived in the UAE on Tuesday and met Sheikh Mohammed at Qasr al-Bahar in Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital. There, Sheikh Mohammed pledged $4 million to the Zelenska foundation for the construction of orphanages, the state-run Emirati news agency WAM reported.

“Sheikh Mohammed reiterated the UAE’s commitment to the people of Ukraine through continued humanitarian assistance, while emphasizing the importance of international and regional efforts aimed at achieving a political solution to restore security, stability and peace,” said WAM.

Zelenska has played a more prominent role in promoting Ukraine since the beginning of the war. She met US first lady Jill Biden when the US president’s wife made a surprisingly quick visit to Ukraine from Slovakia in May. She has also traveled the world, meeting with leaders and telling the United Nations in February, “We have the right to live free, not to be killed or tortured.”

Speaking to the crowd, Zelenska told the story of a school teacher who still directs her students via video call from a snowy street, even though power and internet connections remain shaky in the country. She also brought up a 30-year-old female combat medic who had been killed in the fighting near Bakhmut in the east, causing a sob among the women gathered at the top.

“We are inspired by the examples and I am sure that these examples will remain in our hearts forever,” said Zelenska.

She added with jubilation: “Ukrainian women and men have adapted so quickly that our enemies have not been able to come up with new challenges for us.”

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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