(ATTN: CHANGES photo)
SEOUL, May 16 (Yonhap) -- Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska has expressed an intention to invite President Yoon Suk Yeol and first lady Kim Keon Hee to her war-torn country, calling South Korea a "model of resilience and development."
In an exclusive written interview with Yonhap News Agency, the second in less than a year, Zelenska also cautioned against any war fatigue and appealed for "more radical" support for her country's fight against Russia's aggression, which she said affects the "future of the whole world."
Since the outbreak of the war in February last year, she has been at the vanguard of a campaign to shed light on the wartime tragedy and enlist global solidarity for Ukraine. She is currently in Seoul to attend a local forum.
"Ukraine is always waiting for its friends," she said when asked if Kyiv has a plan to invite Yoon and the first lady. "Such a visit would be very supportive to Ukrainians because it is a way to share our confrontation with us, at least for a day of our lives."
She expressed her gratitude for South Korea's continued support to Ukraine.
"For Ukrainians, South Korea and its history are a model of resilience and development. So thank you for setting a good example and inspiring us," she said.
Seoul's assistance to the war-ravaged nation has been limited to non-lethal items. But in a media interview last month, Yoon signaled a potential policy shift, saying it might be difficult to insist only on humanitarian or financial aid if Ukraine comes under a large-scale attack on civilians.
Zelenska called the move "a wise decision by the president."
"Indeed, when there is a criminal in the house, the owners clearly need not only humanitarian aid, food and medicine, but something more radical to drive the criminal out," she said. "We say to everyone -- give us a resource and we will drive the criminal out of our home."
The first lady highlighted the importance of the international community's undiminished attention to Ukraine, as the country has been grappling with woeful incidences of violence, particularly against children, the "most defenseless" in the throes of the war.
She catalogued a raft of grim wartime stories, including a 12-year-old boy forcibly separated from his mother who is still in Russian captivity, and two siblings taken to an orphanage after his father was thrown in prison.
With such ordeals seemingly far from over, international solidarity is of great importance for Ukraine, she stressed.
"I think the world should be more afraid of losing this interest than we are, because if the aggressor wins, the whole world loses," she said. "I do not advise anyone to lose this interest because it is an interest in your own life and the future of the whole world."
On the idea of reaching a ceasefire with Russia, Zelenska said Ukraine will only be satisfied with the "peace that will result from our victory, not an abstract armistice."
"It is impossible to shake hands with the hand that has just killed your relatives and neighbors. You cannot sit down at the negotiating table with a murderer who has no regrets," Zelenska pointed out.
She also cited U.S. President Joe Biden's remarks earlier this year: "If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine."
She then highlighted the need for accountability.
"We know from history what happens when the aggressor is not punished ... Everyone should be interested in stopping him ... It is the same as stopping street crime before it reaches your street," she said.
Asked to deliver a message to South Koreans under constant threat from a recalcitrant North Korea, Zelenska gave a simple answer: You all are already the answer.
"Your incredible development, your rise, your very life in the face of such a threat proves that this is the right path," she said. "It makes no sense to be afraid of what you cannot change. But everything changes when fear disappears."