As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy leads his country against a Russian invasion, learn all about his supportive wife, Olena Zelenska.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been thrust into the spotlight as Russian forces attempt to take over the country. Zelensky, 44, has bravely remained in the capital city Kyiv with his family, which includes his wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, and their two children. With civilians fleeing the country in droves as the whole world watches Vladimir Putin‘s military invasion of Ukraine, Olena is standing by her husband and commending the Ukrainian people’s courage and bravery. “I am proud to live with you in the same country!” she said in an Instagram post on Feb. 25. “Today I will not have panic. I will be calm and confident. My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And with you.” Here’s everything to know about Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska.
1. Olena met Zelensky in college.
Olena was studying architecture at Kryvyi Rih National University when she met her future husband. Zelensky was a budding comedian and law student at the time. Olena ended up becoming a writer for a comedy troupe that helped Zelensky rise to fame in the Ukrainian comedy series Servant of the People. Olena supported her husband’s career in the entertainment industry, before he shifted to politics. They dated for eight years before they got married on September 6, 2003.
2. She has two children.
Olena and Zelensky’s first child, daughter Oleksandra, was born on July 15, 2004. They welcomed their son Kyrylo on January 21, 2013. Their kids are currently 17 and 9 years old, respectively. Upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky has said that he is “target No 1’,” while his wife and their two children are “No 2,” according to British magazine Tatler.
3. She initially opposed her husband’s political career.
While Olena stood by her husband during his days in acting and comedy, that wasn’t the same for his political career at first. Zelensky unexpectedly announced his run for Ukrainian President on December 31, 2018, and he quickly gained nationwide support. But Olena was initially opposed to Zelensky’s political goals. Of course, that changed over time and she became First Lady of Ukraine once her husband won the presidential election on April 21, 2019 with 73% of the nationwide vote.
Olena previously appeared on the cover of Ukrainian Vogue in November 2019 and opened up about being thrust into the spotlight. “I am a non-public person. But the new realities [being First Lady] require their own rules, and I’m trying to comply with them,” she said in the interview. “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.”
4. She is a champion for women’s rights.
As First Lady, Olena is passionate about women’s rights. She initiated Ukraine’s accession to the G7 international initiative on gender equality, the Biarritz Partnership. She’s also promoted Ukrainian Women’s Congress. Olena started an initiative to spread the Ukrainian language around the world in June 2020 and has advocated for a barrier-free society. She’s also been very involved in the reform of school nutrition system in Ukraine.
5. Olena was hospitalized for COVID.
Olena ended up in the hospital in June 2020 after testing positive for COVID-19. Her office told Reuters that her symptoms included “bilateral polysegmental pneumonia of moderate severity.” She didn’t require oxygen donation. Zelensky and the kids tested negative for the virus at the time.