Ukraine’s first lady to visit Israel next week at invitation of president’s wife

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President Isaac Herzog’s office officially acknowledged Tuesday that Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska will visit Israel next week at the invitation of her Israeli counterpart, Michal Herzog, to discuss trauma care and rehabilitation.

Diplomatic sources told The Times of Israel earlier this week that a visit was expected but that the dates needed to be finalized.

Zelenska and Herzog will conduct a joint visit on Monday to the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, and will hold meetings with the Israel Trauma Coalition and NATAL, an Israeli nonprofit that specializes in war and terror-related trauma. Officials from the Foreign Ministry and European Union will participate in the talks as well.

Zelenska, wife of Ukraine’s wartime leader President Volodymyr Zelensky, will also have a personal schedule that will likely include a visit to wounded Ukrainian soldiers undergoing rehabilitation in Israel. Wounded Ukrainian soldiers began arriving in Israel for treatment last September, and 11 have returned home thus far.

Israel’s first lady first invited Zelenska in April.

In May, President Isaac Herzog and wife Michal renewed the invitation to Zelenska during their extended conversation ahead of King Charles III’s coronation ceremony in London.

Michal Herzog speaks during a ceremony at the president’s residence for representatives of diplomatic delegations to Israel, in Jerusalem, September 20, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

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

She met US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in the White House in July 2022, and addressed a joint session of 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.

Herzog and Zelenska have spoken several times during the war. In May 2022, Zelenska invited Israel’s first lady to join in her national program for psychological support. They have cooperated occasionally since then, including on two visits by Ukrainian mental health professionals — mainly psychologists and therapists — to 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.

Before the war, Herzog also participated remotely in the Kyiv Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen that Zelenska hosted in 2021.

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.

Sheba Medical Center ran a field hospital in western Ukraine, away from the front lines, for six weeks shortly after Russia invaded, where 6,200 people were treated. In addition, 204 Ukrainian professionals have participated in trauma programs in Israel run by MASHAV, Israel’s international development organization, and more than 2,500 joined online programs. Israel also donated four armored ambulances and hundreds of tons of humanitarian equipment.

Oleg, a wounded Ukrainian soldier treated in Israel, addresses attendees at the Ukrainian Israeli Rehabilitation Summit in Kyiv, May 30, 2023 (Israel Embassy Ukraine)

Last month, four 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 occupying 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.

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

Israel has turned down requests to send weapons to Ukraine, as it has sought to walk a tightrope in its relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

Russia maintains a significant military presence in Syria, Israel’s northern and bellicose neighbor and a frequent target of Israeli strikes against Iran-backed militias and arms convoys. The need to balance security interests at home and policy abroad has produced a relatively restrained response from successive Israeli governments.

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