What we know about Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady

Jill Biden greets Olena Zelenska
Associated Press/Susan Walsh
First lady Jill Biden, left, greets Olena Zelenska, spouse of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, outside School 6, a public school that has taken in displaced students in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on Sunday, May 8, 2022.

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 which 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.

Tags Jill Biden Olena Zelenska Volodymyr Zelensky

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