Former Miss Ukraine Details Her Escape with Son and Pleads for World to Help Moms and Kids

Veronika Didusenko, who was named Miss Ukraine in 2018, made a call for help on behalf of Ukrainians during a press conference on International Women's Day

Veronika Didusenko
Veronika Didusenko. Photo: Veronika Didusenko/Instagram

Veronika Didusenko, who won the title of Miss Ukraine in 2018, was joined by attorney Gloria Allred on Tuesday as she made a plea on behalf of Ukrainians under attack by Russian forces.

During the press conference in Los Angeles on International Women's Day, Didusenko detailed how she escaped Ukraine with her young son, Alex, after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24.

"We were awakened by sirens and explosions in Kiev… a city of more than 3 million people, who was asleep," the 26-year-old explained, "and without any formal declaration of war, without any hope for its inhabitants to take shelter, was hit by an enemy bomb."

"On my lengthy journey to the border of Ukraine, there was no place where sirens could not sound, where rockets and bombs would not explode," she continued.

Didusenko said she eventually reached safety and met with friends who volunteered to watch her son while she advocates for her home country in the U.S.

"Right now, millions of Ukrainian children and their mothers are traveling... [to] the subway stations and bomb shelters," she explained. "Even more heartbreaking, women are giving birth in such conditions in these shelters. Right now, Russian [airplanes], missiles and multiple rocket launchers continue to strike at dozens of Ukrainian cities."

Gloria Allred, Veronika Didusenko
Gloria Allred; Veronika Didusenko. Mark Makela/Getty; Veronika Didusenko/Instagram

Didusenko joined Allred in calling on President Joe Biden to give Ukrainians the opportunity to come to the U.S., "if they so choose," without a visa.

"Europe is doing what it can, but we must step up as well," Allred said during the conference.

"Today is International Women's Day, and the time for urgent action is now," she added.

This is not the first time Didusenko has spoken up about issues on behalf of women. Just days after she was crowned Miss Ukraine 2018, she was stripped of her title for being a divorced mother, which is against entry requirements.

She has since started the nonprofit Right to Be a Mother, in the hopes of changing the rules for the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants.

On Tuesday, First Lady Jill Biden also spoke out in support of Ukrainian women.

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"This International Women's Day, we honor women throughout the world who courageously use their voice, no matter the cost," she said in a statement. "To our sisters from Ukraine who are fighting to keep their country free and their families alive: We stand with you in solidarity."

"To our sisters in Russia who are protesting and speaking out against the invasion at great personal risk: We see your courage," she added. "To women warriors around the world, those fighting for justice and working for change: Thank you for building a better future for all of us."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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