Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska Declines SOTU Invitation to Biden’s State of the Union

Olena Zelenska, Ukraine's first lady, declines the White House's invitation to attend President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, citing scheduling conflicts and concerns about seating arrangements next to Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, will not attend US President Joe Biden‘s State of the Union speech to Congress on Thursday, despite being invited by the White House.

“Due to planned events in the schedule, including the visit of children from an orphanage to Kyiv, which was planned in advance, unfortunately, the first lady will not be able to participate in the event,” her office informed POLITICO.

However, the Washington Post reported late Tuesday that Zelenska had other reasons for declining the invitation.

According to Post sources, Zelenska was set to sit next to US first lady Jill Biden and Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic jail in Russia last month.

However, the Post said that this prompted concern among Ukraine’s senior officials, since many Ukrainians do not regard Navalnaya and other Russian opposition members as partners in the struggle against President Vladimir Putin. That is owing to Navalny’s previous statements about Crimea “not being a sandwich to give back and forth,” which were seen as supporting Russia’s claim to the Ukrainian peninsula, which it unlawfully grabbed and occupied in 2014.

Navalny subsequently officially supported Ukraine’s return to its 1991 boundaries, while condemning Russia’s invasion on Ukraine.

In the end, Navalnaya refused the White House’s invitation to the State of the Union address, claiming exhaustion.

The entire episode sparked fury in Kyiv. “The world insists on putting Ukrainians and Russians side by side, indicating that both are victims of Putin’s dictatorial rule. “The victim and the aggressor are not equal,” said Iryna Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian MP from the opposing European Solidarity political party, on Facebook.

“The tragedy of the Navalny family is not equal to the genocide of the Ukrainian people,” she went on to say. “All Russians have responsibility for this atrocious conflict. “They didn’t stop it.”

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