Ukraine’s first lady asks South Korea for air defense systems and non-lethal military hardware

By Gawon Bae and Chris Lau, CNN

Seoul, South Korea CNN  —  Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska asked South Korea to provide air defense systems as well as non-lethal military hardware when she met with President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul on Tuesday, both countries have reported.

Zelenska, who is visiting the South Korean capital as a Ukrainian presidential envoy, requested a raft of items including mine detectors, demining equipment and first aid vehicles, South Korea’s presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon said on Tuesday.

According to Ukraine’s presidential office, Zelenska told Yoon that her country needed help with technologies South Korea “is famous for.”

“We discussed with the president the need for air defense systems to stop the missile terrorism of the aggressor country,” Zelenska was quoted as saying.

“We also need the means to clear the traps that Russia has left on our territory and medical equipment to save those who were wounded by the attackers,” she added.

Since the war broke out in Ukraine, South Korea has maintained its stance of not providing lethal weapons to a warring country, although Yoon has hinted at a possible major policy shift.

However, during an interview with Reuters in April, the South Korean leader said his country would consider sending lethal aid to Ukraine if there was a large-scale attack on civilians.

The East Asian country has previously faced calls from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to relax its rule on not exporting weapons to countries in conflict, so it could help arm Ukraine.

During the Tuesday meeting, the Ukrainian first lady also expressed hope that South Korean companies would take part in rebuilding Ukraine, according to the spokesman for Yoon’s office.

Yoon greeted Zelenska by expressing his condolences to the victims and the Ukrainian people, and told her that South Korea would “actively support Ukraine” in cooperation with NATO countries and the international community.

Separately, Zelenska met South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee, who praised the “courageous and devotional” efforts her Ukrainian counterpart has made in the midst of a war, the presidential office spokesman said.

The Ukrainian first lady handed Yoon “a personal letter and an invitation from the president of Ukraine” to visit her country, the Ukrainian side said.

Zelenska was in the country to take part in the Asian Leadership Conference, accompanied by Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Yulia Svyrydenko and Deputy Head of the Presidential Office Rostyslav Shurma, according to Ukraine’s presidential office.

In a speech to the conference Wednesday, Zelenska said “humanitarian aid alone will not save” Ukrainians.

“Where there is a criminal in your house, who has come to kill your family, humanitarian aid alone will not save the residents,” Zelenska said, referring to Russia’s invasion.

“The first thing to do is stop the murderer. In the case of Kherson, it could be air defense systems, technologically advanced and effective like everything your country creates and produces.”

Since the beginning of the war, Zelenska has used her position to raise awareness of the plight suffered by her citizens and maintain diplomatic relations with global leaders.

Just before her trip to Seoul, she met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to discuss the psychological rehabilitation of children in her country.

Last year, she met US first lady Jill Biden privately at the White House to discuss American support for Ukraine.

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