Just days before the possibility of encountering Russia’s highest-ranking diplomat at the United Nations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated on Monday that the international organization should be held accountable for granting a seat at the decision-making table to the country that invaded Ukraine.
“For us, it’s very important that all our words, all our messages, will be heard by our partners. And if in the United Nations still — it’s a pity, but still — there is a place for Russian terrorists, the question is not to me. I think it’s a question to all the members of the United Nations,” Zelensky said after visiting wounded Ukrainian military members at a New York hospital.
He had just arrived in the US to make his country’s case to the world and to Washington for continued help in trying to repel Russia’s invasion, nearly 19 months into what has become a grinding war.
Ukraine’s Western allies have supplied weapons and other assistance, and the US Congress is currently weighing President Joe Biden’s request to provide as much as $24 billion more in military and humanitarian aid.
US lawmakers are increasingly divided over providing additional money to Ukraine. Zelensky is scheduled to spend some time Thursday on Capitol Hill and meet with Biden at the White House.
Before that, Zelensky is due to address world leaders at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday and speak Wednesday at a UN Security Council meeting about Ukraine. Russia is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the council, and Foreign Minister Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to make remarks.
Asked whether he’d stay in the room to listen, Zelensky said, “I don’t know how it will be, really.”
Zelensky has taken the United Nations to task before — even before the war launched by a neighbor that, as a Security Council member, is entrusted with maintaining international peace and security. In one memorable example, he lamented at the General Assembly in 2021 that the UN was ”a retired superhero who’s long forgotten how great they once were.”
Traveling to the US for the first time since December, he began his trip with a stop at Staten Island University Hospital. The medical facility has, to date, treated 18 Ukrainian military members who lost limbs in the war, said Michael J. Dowling, the CEO of hospital parent company Northwell Health.
With help from a New Jersey-based charity called Kind Deeds, the injured have gotten fitted for prostheses and are undergoing outpatient physical therapy.
Zelensky greeted several injured troops as they exercised in a rehab gym. He asked about their wounds, wished them a speedy recovery and thanked them for their service.
“How are you doing? Is it difficult?” Zelensky asked one military member, who paused and then said it was OK.
“Stay strong,” Zelensky replied, later telling the group their country was grateful and proud of them.
Later, in a hospital conference room, he awarded medals to the injured, posed for photos, signed a large Ukrainian flag and thanked medical personnel and the injured troops.
“We all will be waiting for you back home,” he said. “We absolutely need every one of you.”