Von Der Leyen Praises Zelenska, Signals EU Expansion in State of Union Address

European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen spoke in praise of the Ukrainian people and of First Lady Olena Zelenska, who was in attendance, during her State of the Union address in Strasbourg on September 14.

“Dear Olena, it took immense courage to resist Putin’s cruelty,” Von der Leyen told Zelenska. “But you found that courage.”

“You have given courage to the whole nation. And we have seen in the last days the bravery of Ukrainians paying off,” she continued.

Von der Leyen said the European Commission would provide €100 million for the rebuilding of Ukrainian schools, “because the future of Ukraine begins in its schools.”

Later in her speech, Von der Leyen addressed the citizens of Ukraine, the Western Balkans, Moldova and Georgia, saying, “You are part of our family, your future is in our Union, and our Union is not complete without you.” Credit: Ursula von der Leyen via Storyful

Video transcript

URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Today, courage has a name. And that name is Ukraine. Courage has a face. And that face is the face of Ukrainian men and women who are standing up to the Russian aggression. I remember a moment in the early weeks of the invasion, when the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, gathered the parents of Ukrainian children killed by the invader. Hundreds of families for whom the war will never end, and for whom life will never go back to what it was before.

We saw the first lady leading a silent crowd of heartbroken mothers and fathers and hang small bells in the trees. One for every fallen child. And now, these bells will ring forever in the wind. And forever the innocent victims of this war will live in our memories. And yes, she's here with us today. My dear Olena Zelenska, it took immense courage to resist Putin's cruelty, but you found the courage. And a nation of heroes has risen.

Today, Ukraine stand strong because an entire country has fought street by street and house by house. And we are seeing in the last days, the bravery of the Ukrainians is paying off. Ukraine stands strong because people like your husband, President Zelensky, have stayed in Kyiv to lead the resistance, together with you and your children. You have given courage to a whole nation.


You have given a voice to your people on a global stage. You have given hope to all of us. So today, we want to thank you and all Ukrainians. Glory to a country of European heroes. Slava Ukrainian.


So far, Team Europe has provided more than 19 billion euros in financial assistance. And this is without counting the military support. And we are in for the long haul. Ukraine's reconstruction will require massive resources. For instance, Russian strikes have damaged or destroyed more than 70 schools. Half a million Ukrainian children have started their school year in the European Union, but many other Ukrainian children simply do not have a classroom to go to.

And you told me yesterday, dear Olena, that every day when the parents are sending the children to school, they don't only give them the school bag, but also an emergency bag with water, with food, with band-aids, medical supply, with socks, and an underwear to change. And just imagine you send in the morning your child to school hand bag in to school, and you do not know whether you're going to be reunited in the afternoon after school.

So my dear Olena, I am announcing that we will work with you to support the rehabilitation of damaged Ukrainian schools. We will provide what you need. This is 100 million euros because the future of Ukraine begins in the schools and with the children.

The past was strong democracies. And the path towards our Union are one and the same. And so, I want to know the people of the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to know, and I think I speak in the name of this noble house. You are part of our family. You are the future of our Union, and in our Union, and our Union is not complete without you. This has to be the message.