What we know about Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady. The wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has kept an extremely low profile since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“First of all, I would like to thank you for a very courageous act,” Zelenska said to Biden during her visit. “Because we understand what it takes for the U.S. first lady to come here during a war when the military actions are taking place every day, where the air sirens are happening every day even today.”
Born Olena Kiyashko, she grew up in the central Ukrainian city where Volodymyr Zelensky was born and raised. The two met in high school in Kryvyi Rih, at Kryvyi Rih Gymnasium №95. They then attended college together, at Kryvyi Rih Economic Institute, where she studied architecture and he studied law.
Olena and Volodymyr started dating in 1995. The two dated for eight years before marrying in September 2003. After marrying, they moved from Kyrvyi Rih to Kyiv. They have two children: Oleksandra (nicknamed Sasha), born in July 2004, and Kyrylo, born January 2013.
“I am a non-public person. But the new realities require their own rules, and I’m trying to comply with them,” Olena told Vogue Ukraine. “I can’t say that publicity or communication with the press is stressful for me. But I prefer staying backstage.
My husband is always on the forefront, while I feel more comfortable in the shade. I am not the life of the party, I do not like to tell jokes. It’s not in my character. But I found reasons for myself in favour of publicity. One of them is the opportunity to attract people’s attention to important social issues. At the same time, this does not concern the publicity of my children: I have not posted their photos on social networks before, and now I will not either.” After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Olena went into hiding with her children. Her husband lives in the President’s office, and she cannot stay with him due to the danger to the children. Since, Olena and her children have been in an undisclosed location in Ukraine.
After her husband of 18 years, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was elected president of Ukraine in 2019, Zelenska launched an initiative as the first lady to improve the quality and nutrition of food in schools.
But on Feb. 24, her priorities were dramatically altered when Russian tanks and troops invaded her country, leaving crisscrossed trails of destruction and death and prompting a diaspora of refugees, now topping 2.8 million.
Zelenska has become an inspiration to women across her war-torn land and the world, an outspoken mother of two beseeching the West to “help us to stop Russian atrocity in Ukraine.”
“I always knew that he was and would be a reliable support for me. Then he became a wonderful father and support for our family. And now he has shown the same traits,” Olena told CNN about her husband in 2022. “He has not changed. It’s just that more people saw it through my eyes.” She learned from social media that her husband was running for Prime Minister. She found out about his candidacy from social media—she said he “forgot” to tell her, but they had been discussing it for a long time. Her husband took office in 2019, and she described herself as a “non-public person.”
Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, made her first public appearance since the start of Russia’s invasion of her country during a weekend visit with first lady Jill Biden
Fascination has surrounded Ukraine’s first family since Zelensky adamantly remained in Kyiv as his country was attacked, declaring himself and his family as Moscow’s top targets. Here’s what we know about Olena Zelenska.
Prior to her husband’s political career
Both Zelenska, 44, and her future husband grew up in Kryvyi Rih, a city in the south-central part of Ukraine. The pair, however, did not meet until college, according to The Washington Post. Though Zelenska studied architecture, she and Zelensky both found careers in comedy. Specifically, she worked as a comedy writer for Studio Kvartal 95, Zelensky’s production company, the Post added.
The couple married in 2003 and have two children, Sasha, 17, and Cyril, 9.
Becoming Ukraine’s first lady
When Zelenska found out her husband was running for president she asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I forgot,” he responded, according to the Post, which cited a 2019 interview with Vogue Ukraine.
Zelenska said she was “not too happy when I realized that those were the plans.”
“I realized how everything would change, and what difficulties we would have to face,” she added.
Now, the 44-year-old has supported causes like nutrition and safe environments in schools and preventing domestic violence as well as supporting Ukrainian Paralympic athletes.
Since the invasion began
Zelenska described what it was like when the invasion began in an interview conducted via email with Vogue
“I wouldn’t say there was panic,” she explained. “Confusion perhaps. ‘What should we do with the children?’ ‘Wait,’ he said, ‘I’ll let you know. Just in case, gather essentials and documents.’ And he left the house,” she added, speaking of her husband.
She also spoke of a 9-year-old son’s and 17-year-old daughter’s reaction to the war.
“I’ve seen this raise the deepest patriotic feelings in our children. Not only my children but all the children of Ukraine. They will grow up to be patriots and defenders of their homeland,” Zelenska said.
As her husband has stepped into the role of becoming Ukraine’s wartime leader, Zelenska has also offered support to her country.
“Today I will not have panic and tears. I will be calm and confident. My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And together with you. I love you all! I love Ukraine!,” she said in an Instagram post at the start of the invasion.
For the safety of herself and her children, Zelenska’s whereabouts throughout the war have remained unknown publicly.
She did, however, make her first public appearance since the invasion started earlier this week during a meeting with Biden.
The women met at a school that has been used as a makeshift shelter for Ukrainian families, The New York Times reported.
“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden said to Zelenska.
“I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop and this war has been brutal and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine,” she added.
Zelenska in turn thanked Biden for her “courageous” visit.
“We understand what it takes for the U.S. first lady to come here during a war when military actions are taking place every day, where the air sirens are happening every day — even today,” the Ukrainian first lady said.
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