DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukraine’s first lady will give a rare international address as the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in the snowy Swiss town of Davos gets into full swing on Tuesday, part of a push by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government to acquire more foreign weapons to defend against Russia’s invasion.
Security teams fanned out and snowplows cleared streets as Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska and hundreds of government officials, corporate titans, academics and activists from around the world descended on the town billed as Europe’s highest for the traditional winter gathering in Davos. The COVID-19 pandemic torpedoed the snow-covered event each of the last two years, but a springtime iteration was held eight months ago.
Davos attendees are faced with global strife including Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and jolted food and fuel markets worldwide, epitomizing a feeling of frustration about how conflict and bloodshed are still befuddling modern society.
Adding to the gloom are an economic slowdown and a warming world, with the weeklong talkfest of big ideas and backroom deal-making prioritizing such problems but never making clear how much concrete action emerges to help reach the forum’s stated ambition of “improving the state of the world.”
In a reminder of the fragility of the planet amid climate change, a giant illuminated wall featuring colorful, AI-conceived art derived from real images of coral reefs was one of the whiz-bang innovations welcoming attendees, showing how technology can immortalize images of natural beauty that might vanish one day.
Dozens of sessions Tuesday will take up issues as diverse as gender parity, the return of manufacturing, the green transition, efforts to end tuberculosis and the intersection of food, water and energy, featuring actor Idris Elba. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will speak.
With a war on the same continent, on many concerned minds in Davos was the devastation from a Russian missile strike that hit an apartment building in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, killing at least 40 people in one of the deadliest single attacks in months.
Ukrainians have reacted to such tragedies during nearly a year of war with unbowed defiance, anger and determination to fight back.
Zelenska’s speech will come after she told CNN through an interpreter on Sunday that despite Russia missile strikes that have pounded Ukrainian energy infrastructure and civilian areas in recent months, “we understand that upon carrying on for a year, we are capable of persevering for even longer.”
The high-level Ukrainian diplomatic push in Davos in the spotlight of CEOs, global government officials and the media offers a new chance to enlist and ramp up international support that the Ukrainians have been clamoring for: weapons like tanks and anti-rocket defenses as well as greater pressure to further isolate and squeeze Russia’s economy.
France, the U.K., the U.S. and other nations are vowing to send increasingly powerful weapons to Ukraine, such as tanks or armored combat vehicles.
Increased military aid has come after pleas from Ukrainian leaders and notables. Zelenska asked Congress for more U.S. air defense systems as she visited Washington for a week in July and met at the White House with U.S. first lady Jill Biden.
Zelenskyy, after traveling to Washington himself last month to reinvigorate support for Ukraine in his first known trip abroad since the invasion, will be beamed in by video on Wednesday to complement the in-person delegation of his wife and officials such as Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. The latter seemed determined to get business leaders to shun business with Russia.
“Stop trade with Russia: Every dollar that you send to Russia is bloody money,” he told reporters Monday.
The Yale School of Management has compiled a list showing about 1,000 companies have curtailed operations in Russia, but some Western multinationals still operate there.
The forum has blacklisted Russia — and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
“We made it clear in the spring that it is now up to Russia,” forum President Borge Brende, a former Norwegian foreign minister, said Sunday. “If they start to again comply with the U.N. Charter, if they again comply with basic humanitarian law, and don’t break international law, they of course will come back.”