Ukraine’s First Lady Enthralls GU Audience

The stunningly beautiful Gaston Hall at the center of Georgetown University’s main campus was full of excited students on Sept. 20. “It’s so amazing!” a student told The Georgetowner. “I’ve only been on campus a few weeks and here I am, already personally getting to meet and hear the first lady of Ukraine – which is in the top world news almost every day.”

First lady Olena Zelenska came to tell Georgetown students about the dire conditions Ukrainian students face as their homes, campuses, towns and country endure more than a year war with Russia.

“Many first-graders spent their first day of classes in bomb shelters,” she reported. “More than 80 universities have been damaged or destroyed by airstrikes since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Many students have died from bombs in the streets of their own cities,” Zelenska said.

“But they are students just like you who want to be able to study peacefully in their own country. Don’t turn a blind eye,” she urged. “I believe that with the help of people who care about the world, this will come to pass.”

Zelenska  had accompanied her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to the U.S. to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. They met with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden at the White House and Zelenskyy met with members of Congress, while his wife met with over a dozen Ukrainian students at Georgetown.

She called the university “a friend of Ukraine” during an event at Gaston Hall with hundreds of students, faculty, staff and some press. The presentation was moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS).  Zelenska was introduced by G.U. President John J DeGioia who hosted the event.

Before the event, Zelenska, gave the university with 260 Ukrainian books as part of a project to share Ukrainian literature with libraries around the world. Her Olena Zelenska Foundation is currently raising funds to add bomb shelters to schools so that students can attend school in-person. The “Ukrainian Bookshelf Project,” has shared Ukrainian literature with libraries in 40 countries.

“The project is saving Ukraine’s books.” Zelenska said. “We want people to have firsthand knowledge of Ukraine: what we’re like, what we think, where our roots are. Dozens of libraries have been burned down by Russian missiles. Our people are fighting for survival, and so are our books.”

“But books also are saving our people too,” the Ukranian first lady said. “Everywhere you go you see people reading books: in bomb shelters, during air raid alerts, in bombed-out homes. You see pictures of soldiers reading books in the trenches. Books are something that immediately bring them back to memories of home. They are a mental escape the minute you open one. Reading a book is, at least for a few moments, normal life again.”

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska is flanked by IWPS Executive Director Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Georgetown President John J. DeGioia as she received the 2022 Hillary Rodham Clinton Award. Courtesy Georgetown University.



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