The Washington Post reported that Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, declined an invitation from the White House to attend US President Joe Biden’s annual State of the Union Address to Congress.

WP describes this decision as “forgoing one of Washington’s most dignified events and underscoring the complicated politics facing her war-torn country.”

Sources from The Washington Post noted the intended seating arrangement, with plans for the US first lady, Jill Biden, to be seated next to Olena Zelenska and Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition leader Oleksey Navalny.

The image of both women, each a symbol of resistance against Russian President Vladimir Putin, was intended to provide a powerful backdrop for Biden’s annual constitutionally mandated report, traditionally given as a speech at a joint session of Congress, according to WP sources.

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However, Navalnaya’s potential presence caused discomfort among Ukrainians, particularly due to her husband’s previous statements about Crimea.

“Navalny opposed Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” said Alina Polyakova, President of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

But in 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, he very much was in line with a general Russian view that saw Crimea as part of Russia’s historical lands,” she added.

The White House representative suggested that Zelenska’s decision might be due to a “conflict in the schedule,” deferring further questions to the office of the Ukrainian president.

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Zelensky drew parallels to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which led to years of conflict and eventual US involvement.

The Ukrainian President’s Office in a comment to Ukrainska Pravda said that Zelenska had received an invitation to attend President Biden’s speech in Congress on March 7. However, prior commitments, including a planned visit of children from an orphanage, prevented her from attending the event.

WP reported that Navalnaya also declined to participate in Biden’s speech. Navalnaya’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, attributed this decision to fatigue and a desire to “come to her senses” after her husband’s death and recent travels.

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In his upcoming speech, Biden is expected to urge Republicans in the House of Representatives to decide on financing Ukraine “as soon as possible.”

Each year, the First Lady of the United States invites individuals to join her during the President’s State of the Union Address, with the President often referencing them in his speech to highlight specific policies or issues.

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