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Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska details war’s toll on family

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Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska details war's toll on family


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In a rare joint TV interview, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had “ripped apart” their families, just like the country Like millions of other families.

Zelenska, who has two children with Ukraine’s wartime president, admits she has barely seen Zelensky since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine. Since then, she and her husband have communicated mostly by phone, she said.

“Our family was torn apart like any other Ukrainian family,” Zelenska said. “He lives by his job. We haven’t seen him in 2.5 months.”

Zelenska, however, was quick to dismiss a claim made by an interviewer for Ukrainian television network ICTV that the war “essentially took her husband away”.

“No one took my husband away from me, not even the war,” Zelenska replied.

The interview marked the couple’s second appearance together since the Russian invasion on February 24, when they were married in 2003. During the sit-in, Zelenska said she was “thankful” for their joint appearance on TV because it meant they could finally spend time together.

“The date on TV, thanks,” she joked. Zelensky nodded beside her.

Who is Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine and wife of Voladimir Zelensky?

Early in the war, Zelensky said he was Russia’s “target number one” and his family was “target number two.”

“They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he told Ukrainians in a speech in February, although he refused to flee. Instead, Zelensky took to the streets of the capital, posting provocative videos on social media that earned him global acclaim, while his wife and children hid in an undisclosed location for their safety.

In the interview, Zelenska said she remembers waking up to “strange noises” when the Russian invasion began and noticing that her husband was not with her. Zelensky was awake, putting on his suit in the next room.

“It’s already started,” she remembers him telling her before leaving – something she said left her in a state of “anxiety and a coma.”

The war has raised the profile of the Ukrainian president, who spends most nights video addressing Ukrainians and speaking to parliaments around the world. He has appeared at events ranging from the Grammys to the Cannes Film Festival, which opened last week.

Before becoming president three years ago, Zelensky was a comedian and actor, playing the role of president on screen. The 44-year-old also voiced Paddington Bear and won the Ukrainian version of “Dancing With the Stars” in 2006.

Zelenska, 44, is a screenwriter who has made few public appearances since the Russian invasion. In early May, she was first spotted in Ukraine celebrating Mother’s Day, meeting with US First Lady Jill Biden, who crossed the border from Slovakia, in western Ukraine.

Learn about Volodymyr Zelensky as Ukrainian TV president becomes wartime leader

“We understand what it took for the first lady of the United States to be here during the war, when there was military action every day, and sirens sounded every day, even today,” Zelenska said at the time.

“The American people stand with the Ukrainian people,” Biden told her.

Zelensky and his wife appeared on TV as Russia scrambled to bounce back in Ukraine after huge losses. While early predictions of a sweeping victory for Moscow were largely unchallenged, the prospect of a victory for Vladimir Putin’s army is rapidly fading, The Washington Post reported.

“We broke down one of the largest or most powerful armies in the world,” Zelensky told an interviewer.

In the couple’s hour-long interview, Zelenska expressed hope that once the war is over, she can refocus on issues affecting Ukrainian women, such as unequal pay.

“After the victory, we will remember the heroism of Ukrainian women,” she said.

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