Ukraine’s first lady: Tech must be used to save people, not to kill

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In an emotional appeal, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska urged tech workers from around the world on Tuesday to create innovations to stop Russia and help save people in her war-torn country.

“The dystopias we read about in science fiction novels … are much closer than you think,” Zelenska told a packed venue at the opening event of Europe’s largest tech conference, Lisbon’s Web Summit, as she showed a video of the aftermath of a drone attack in Kyiv.

“Russia puts technology at the service of terror.”

Describing technology as a “battlefield” in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Zelenska said that technological equipment such as drones and missiles were being used to “kill people,” not to save them.

As some among the crowd held Ukrainian flags, Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asked those in attendance to come up with ideas to “stop the terror, save people and restore the destroyed.”

“You can help us stop the list of terrorism victims from expanding,” she said. “I believe that such technology is the future … if it’s not, there simply won’t be a future to look forward to.”

Russian forces swept into Ukraine in February in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to eliminate dangerous nationalists and protect Russian-speakers. Kyiv calls Moscow’s military action an unprovoked imperialist land grab.

The conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and reopened Cold War-era divisions.

“They (Russia) are attacking our power plants, there are blackouts everywhere in the country … now, every day, we have no electricity, no communications and no internet for hours,” Zelenska said.

She said her country was no longer able to invest in high technology in places such as schools because it must buy generators instead.

More than 70 000 people are expected to attend the summit, which kicked off on Tuesday and will feature over 900 speakers ranging from Microsoft Corp’s vice chairman, Brad Smith, to Changpeng Zhao, founder of cryptocurrency exchange Binance.

Web Summit’s boss, Paddy Cosgrave, told Reuters last week that 59 Ukrainian start-ups would attend the event. Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister who also runs the ministry of digital transformation, will also speak.