Ukraine’s First Lady Appeals to South Korea for Air Defense Systems and Non-Lethal Military Hardware

Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s First Lady and presidential envoy, visited Seoul and met with President Yoon Suk Yeol to request air defense systems and non-lethal military hardware from South Korea. The discussions, confirmed by both countries, revolved around Zelenska’s appeal for assistance, including mine detectors, demining equipment, and first aid vehicles.

During the meeting, Zelenska emphasized the need for technologies that South Korea is renowned for, stating that Ukraine requires air defense systems to counter the missile threats posed by aggressor nations. She also highlighted the necessity of equipment to clear the traps left by Russia on Ukrainian territory, as well as medical supplies to aid the wounded.

While South Korea has traditionally refrained from providing lethal weapons to countries engaged in conflicts, President Yoon hinted at a potential shift in policy during an interview with Reuters in April. He expressed openness to considering sending lethal aid to Ukraine in the event of a large-scale attack on civilians.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has previously urged South Korea to relax its restrictions on exporting weapons to conflict-affected countries, including Ukraine, to support its defense capabilities. Zelenska also expressed hope for South Korean companies to participate in the reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

During her visit, Zelenska met with South Korea’s First Lady, Kim Keon-hee, who commended her Ukrainian counterpart’s courageous and devoted efforts amidst the ongoing war. Zelenska presented President Yoon with a personal letter and an invitation to visit Ukraine.

Apart from her diplomatic engagements, Zelenska participated in the Asian Leadership Conference and delivered a speech emphasizing that humanitarian aid alone is insufficient to address the challenges faced by Ukrainians. She stressed the need to halt the aggressor, referring to Russia’s invasion, and highlighted the importance of advanced and effective air defense systems, drawing attention to South Korea’s technological prowess.

Zelenska has consistently utilized her position to raise awareness about the hardships endured by Ukrainian citizens and foster diplomatic relations with global leaders. Prior to her visit to Seoul, she met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv to discuss the psychological rehabilitation of children in Ukraine. Last year, Zelenska held a private meeting with US First Lady Jill Biden at the White House to discuss American support for Ukraine.