Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told an assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the impact of Russia’s invasion on health care and mental well-being could last for decades.
In a video address to the World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 23, Zelenska said that “Russia’s war has shown horrors we could not have imagined,” stressing the consequences for mental health.
“WHO is committed to protecting the most crucial human rights to life and health. Now they are both being violated in Ukraine,” she said.
“The consequences of this war unfortunately will remain for years and decades,” said Zelenska.
Zelenska’s comments came as countries at the World Health Assembly prepare to discuss a resolution to be presented by Ukraine and its allies on May 24, harshly condemning Russia’s invasion, especially its more than 200 attacks on health care, including hospitals and ambulances, in Ukraine.
Currently, Zelenska said, “no Ukrainian, neither adult nor small children, can be sure that they will wake up tomorrow and a missile will not fly into their house.”
“Doctors can’t be sure that their ambulances will not be bombed on the way to reach the patient.”
The resolution also voices alarm at the “health emergency in Ukraine,” and highlights the dire impacts beyond its borders, including how disrupted grain exports are deepening a global food security crisis.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told reporters on May 23 that the “resolution uses strong language,” and voiced confidence it had enough support to pass.
Top health officials addressing the Geneva gathering on May 23 voiced support for the resolution while condemning Russia’s invasion.
“We gather here today in a peaceful European city with no need to fear the sound of incoming missiles or artillery… or to fear rape and execution at the hands of invading troops,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the assembly.
“As a group of nations we cannot be pro-health, pro-humanity, without being against such brutal violence,” as is happening in Ukraine, he said.
“So, it is absolutely right that we vote on a motion condemning [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin’s unjustifiable aggression.”
Echoing those sentiments was U.S. Assistant Health Secretary Loyce Pace.
“Russia’s attacks have destroyed numerous health facilities. Civilians and health workers have been maimed and killed,” she said.
“The international community must and the United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Without mentioning the resolution specifically, Russia claimed the WHO and its decision-making body were being politicized.
“With deep concern, we have recently been taking note of politicization attempts of the prganization’s work, as well as deviations from the principle of “impartiality” in its work,” Russia’s Deputy Minister of Health Aleksandra Dronova told the assembly.
She called on WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “to prevent the WHO from becoming a political platform.”