Ukraine's first lady tells Web Summit: 'You can use technology to help, not destroy'

Ukraine's first lady tells Web Summit: 'You can use technology to help, not destroy'

Updated: 28 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes, 35 seconds ago

The first lady of Ukraine has told the Web Summit conference that while social media brings people together, thousands of Ukrainians will never get to update their accounts ever again.

Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, addressed 14,000 people at the technology event at Lisbon’s Altice Arena.

“You can use technology to help, not destroy,” she said.

“I’m certain that by helping Ukraine the world can move in the right direction. I invite you to do so. Let’s do it together,” she said.

“Technology has in many ways brought us closer together through social media,” she said. “But imagine all of a sudden a social media account stops getting updated. The person who ran it is no longer responding to messages. And then you see the black-and-white photos and know the unthinkable has happened. 

"Thousands of Ukrainian social media accounts will never be updated again. These people are gone.”

She said two thirds of Ukrainians suffer from anxiety.

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“People are in total crisis mode,” she said, adding that the “enemy wants us back in the middle ages”.

“Almost half of our families have been separated. There is no point in talking about happiness in Ukraine at all,” she said.

Ms Zelenska was the surprise guest at the event in the Portuguese capital.

The identity of the speaker had been hinted at by the event’s organisers in the weeks leading up to its launch but had remained secret until the hours immediately preceding her arrival.

Dressed in a plain green suit, Ms Zelenska showed the audience photos of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv pre-war guise, lit up brilliantly at night, contrasted with how it stands at present, in darkness.

She further illustrated her speech with photos and stories of Ukrainian children who have lost limbs as a result of the conflict.

Ms Zelenska follows previous guest speakers at the Web Summit, including Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2021 and National Security Agency documents leaker Edward Snowden in 2019.

Her presence was seen as a security risk given the precarious situation her country is in, having been involved in its destabilising conflict with Russia since the latter’s invasion last February.

In introducing her to the stage, Web Summit’s chief executive Paddy Cosgrave once more resumed hostilities with the Irish Government, calling on its politicians to “stop bankrolling Russian oligarchs” via the global shadow banking system.

Ms Zelenska had tweeted on Monday regarding her country’s experience each morning:

“Good morning European friends! How are you? Reading tweets, drinking coffee? Want to feel how Ukrainians start their day? Go down to a cold basement for a couple of hours: with a flashlight and a power bank instead of a warm cup,” she wrote.

Web Summit, the brainchild of Dublin-born tech entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave, has been based in the Portuguese capital since 2017, having moved there from its initial home in Dublin. The four-day event officially launched for its 70,000 attendees on Tuesday afternoon.

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Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska to be guest speaker at Web Summit
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