Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska has urged Britain to become a global leader in helping her country achieve “justice” against Russia, as she addressed an audience of MPs and peers that included Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer.
The speech, in a parliamentary committee room, came as part of a visit to London by Ms Zelenska as she urged the UK and other allies to seek justice against alleged Russian war crimes. Her visit 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 the harrowing speech she gave to the politicians gathered in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, she said that 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 what the British suffered during the Second World War. In front of a union jack and a Ukrainian flag, she said: “Justice, like victory, is not possible without allies.”
Ms Zelenska argued that the International Criminal Court (ICC) does not have the legal force to punish Moscow for its invasion. Through an interpreter, 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.
“We need to unite the world community, just as it happened in January 1942, to support the special tribunal against the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.
“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.”
She continued: “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 that “torture chambers” have been found in many of the towns and villages that have been liberated from Russian occupation.
“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.”
After her speech, she toured an exhibition in Portcullis House detailing alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, alongside House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who called the images “shocking, distressing and appalling”.
The exhibition, which has already been shown in the European parliament and at Nato headquarters, will remain open until mid-December.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly is at a gathering of Nato foreign ministers in Romania this week, which will discuss the ways in which alliance members can continue to support Ukraine through 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. “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,” he said.