Olena Zelenska urged the UK to become a leader in helping Ukraine achieve “justice” against Russia as she addressed an audience of British MPs and peers that included Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer.
The speech, in a Parliament committee room, came as part of a visit to London for Ms Zelenska as she urged the UK and other allies to seek justice against alleged Russian war crimes.
Her visit has focused on the use of sexual violence and rape by Russian forces in the months-long war, which is now heading into a long winter.
And in a harrowing speech to politicians gathered in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, she said the youngest known victim of the “thousands” of such crimes was a four-year-old girl raped by Russian occupiers.
In a further stark message, she said that the Ukrainian experience today has echoes of the British suffering during World War II.
She said: “Justice like victory is not possible without allies.”
She argued that the International Criminal Court (ICC) does not have the legal force to punish Moscow for its invasion.
Through a translator, she said: “We need to start the special tribunal against the crime of aggression of Russia against Ukraine, which will enhance the work of the ICC and not weaken it.
“I’m asking you a small favour to become the world leader in the justice efforts.
“I believe that London can give this decisive impetus so that the world can become better, fairer, thanks to you.”
Speaking in a committee room in Westminster, she said: “Ukrainians are going through the terror, which will resonate with you.
“Your islands survived the air raids, which were identical to those that Russia uses now to put us on our knees.
“We’re hearing sirens every day identical to those which were heard by earlier British generations. You did not surrender and we will not surrender.
“But victory is not the only thing we need. We need justice.”
Ms Zelenska spoke of the “systematic violence” perpetrated by the Russian military, saying “torture chambers” were found in many previously-occupied towns and villages.
This year we were honoured to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy address the House of Commons Chamber.— Sir Lindsay Hoyle (@CommonsSpeaker) November 29, 2022
Today, I am honoured to welcome to the House of Commons, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska. pic.twitter.com/60DHrUdfiU
“We do not know how many boys and girls and women and men became the victims of torture and violence brought by the Russian occupiers,” she said.
“We have documented thousands of crimes including sexual violence.
“The youngest girl who was raped by the Russian occupiers was four years old. The oldest survivor was 85.”
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle introduced the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by saying it was parliamentarians’ duty to “keep the world awake” to the horrors of Russia’s invasion as he praised her “bravery”.
After her speech, Ukraine’s First Lady toured an exhibition in Portcullis House detailing alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine alongside Mr Hoyle, who called the images “shocking, distressing and appalling”.
The exhibition, which has already been shown in the European Parliament and Nato headquarters, will remain open until mid-December.
Addressing a silent crowd in Ukrainian, Ms Zelenska spoke of the victims of Russian atrocities in Bucha, Mariupol and elsewhere across her nation, but also warned: “Every torturer in this war has his face too.”
Earlier, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Zelenska urged the public not to forget the “tragedy” of the Russian invasion amid the festive season.
British foreign secretary James Cleverly is at a gathering of Nato foreign ministers in Romania this week, which will discuss how to continue support for Ukraine throughout the cold winter months.
Mr Cleverly on Tuesday praised a new declaration signed by over 50 countries on ending sexual violence in war and conflicts.
As part of the agreement, signed at a summit in the UK this week, countries agreed to take action to address gender inequality, removing stigma for victims and ensuring national laws are in place to prosecute those responsible for sexual violence.
“Rape in war violates international values as severely as the use of chemical weapons. We must hold perpetrators to account and deliver justice for those affected,” Mr Cleverly said.
“By signing this declaration, we are clear that sexual violence in conflict is a line that should never be crossed. Now is the time to take real action globally to end this horrific crime.”
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