Ukraine’s first lady meets Herzogs to kick off visit promoting humanitarian issues

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Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska met with President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal Herzog in Tel Aviv on Monday, kicking off her first visit to Israel.

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

According to a statement released by the president’s office, Zelenska and Michal Herzog were set to focus during the day on “humanitarian issues, with an emphasis on post-trauma treatment for children and teenagers.”

Isaac Herzog was also present at the meeting as a “gesture to the joint effort to relieve the suffering of children in the war and the whole humanitarian effort.”

Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has been focusing on humanitarian support for the country since the beginning of the Russian invasion in early 2022.

In addition to meeting with Herzog, Zelenska was expected to meet Ukrainian soldiers undergoing rehabilitation in Israel. Wounded Ukrainian soldiers began arriving in Israel for treatment last September, and 11 have returned home thus far.

Later Monday, Zelenska and Herzog were set to visit a children’s hospital in Tel Aviv and conduct a professional discussion with the Israeli Coalition for Trauma and with NATAL: The Israeli Trauma and Resilience Center, which both treat children traumatized by warfare and terrorism. Representatives from the European Union (EU) and the Israeli Foreign Ministry will also be present at the forum.

Zelenska 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 and push for increased aid for Ukrainians, especially children.

US First lady Jill Biden and Olena Zelenska, spouse of Ukrainian’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, join a group of children at School 6 in making tissue-paper bears to give as Mother’s Day gifts in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

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.

Last week, Ukrainian officials told the Times of Israel that the country’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has been unable to arrange a phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant.

Israel’s hesitance is rooted in — among other concerns — its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

Humanitarian aid from Israel has continued without interruption since the beginning of the Russian offensive, despite fluctuating tensions between the two countries.

Last month, several 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 last week.

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

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