Ukraine’s First Lady Declines State of the Union Invitation

Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, declined a White House invitation to attend President Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday, her office said, citing a scheduling conflict.

“Due to scheduled events, including a visit of children from an orphanage to Kyiv, which was planned in advance, the first lady will unfortunately not be able to attend the event,” Tetiana Haiduchenko, Ms. Zelenska’s press secretary, said on Wednesday.

Yulia Navalnaya — the widow of the Russian opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny, who died in a Russian prison last month — was also invited to the address but is unable to attend, the White House said on Tuesday.

The invitation to Ms. Zelenska, and the fact that she was unable to make it, were reported Tuesday evening by The Washington Post.

The White House was hoping to have both women at the speech as a demonstration of the fight for freedom and a show of resistance to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, according to a person familiar with the planning for the address. Officials also believed that having both women there would be a powerful symbol of how high the stakes are to those opposing further aid to Ukraine.

Mr. Biden has been pressing Republicans in Congress to approve a $60 billion military and financial aid package for Ukraine, and he is expected to make a big push for continued support in his address Thursday night.

Facing setbacks on the battlefield, Ukraine has said it urgently needs American military aid to keep up its defense.

Ms. Zelenska’s decision not to attend Mr. Biden’s speech contrasts with Kyiv’s usual readiness to put representatives on the international scene to rally support for the war-torn nation. She and her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, have traveled extensively around the world since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago, attending award ceremonies, diplomatic meetings and presidential inaugurations.

But recent trips by Ukrainian officials to the United States have yielded few results. Mr. Zelensky left Washington empty-handed in December after meeting with Mr. Biden and Congress members whom he hoped to persuade to unblock a $60 billion aid package.

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.

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