Olena Zelenska pleads with US Congress for more weapons

Ukraine's first lady recounts stories of brutality faced by women and children in her country

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Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska pleaded with Congress on Wednesday for the US to provide her country with more air defence systems and other weapons, highlighting the brutalities faced by women and children during Russian's invasion.

"I appeal to all of you on behalf of those who were killed, on behalf of those people who lost their arms and legs," Ms Zelenska said during an in-person address on Capitol Hill.

The wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared the story of Sofia, a girl from Bucha, whose mother was killed during the Russian occupation. Sofia, who lost one arm during the occupation, now suffers from phantom pains.

She also described how a family of six — including two grandparents, a 6-year-old girl and a newborn baby — died after they were attacked by Russian troops as they tried to flee the city of Nova Kakhovka by car.

Ms Zelenska showed horrifying photos of carnage on an overhead screen that left lawmakers shaking their heads at the scenes.

"They will never broadcast this on their news. That's why I'm showing it to you here," Ms Zelenska said.

Ms Zelenska pressed members of congress to act urgently to deliver more air defence systems to Ukraine.

"This is what I'm asking for and what my husband is asking for — not as a presidential couple, but as parents and children of their parents," she said.

Ms Zelenska repeatedly thanked Congress and President Joe Biden for the billions of dollars in arms and other support the US has delivered to Ukraine to help it battle Russian forces and warplanes.

She called for more anti-air defence to help repel what have been unending Russian missile and airstrikes that have killed countless civilians and levelled some Ukrainian cities.

Her remarks came as US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin separately announced that four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (Himars) will be sent to Ukraine. A new, full aid package is expected to be sent out later this week.

In a letter to colleagues on Tuesday, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said many legislators have heard about the brutality of Russian forces against women and girls.

"Indeed, we have sufficient evidence of kidnappings and deportations into Russia, rape of women in front of family members and even rape of little girls," Ms Pelosi wrote.

"When I have commented to some that it is outrageous and sickening that war produces such atrocities, I have been told these barbaric crimes are being directly ordered by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.

"Let me be clear: rape of children cannot be a weapon of war. It is a war crime!" she wrote.

The US State Department placed Russia on its annual human trafficking report in response to Moscow's February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Countries on the list must be engaged in a "policy or pattern" of human traffic and forced labour, or whose government-backed groups use or recruit child soldiers.

"Millions of Ukrainians have had to flee their homes ... most with just what they were able to carry, and that makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The US also claimed that Russia is preparing to annex parts of Ukraine, and that Moscow is already laying the groundwork to seize areas of eastern Ukraine.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" with the goal of "de-Nazifying" the Kyiv government.

Updated: July 20, 2022, 9:36 PM