In recent weeks Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska has seen so little of her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, that she joked about counting their recent joint interview as a “date.”
Zelenska joined her husband and the father of her two children for a rare joint appearance on Ukrainian television network ICTV — marking just the second time the two have been seen together in public since Russian occupation forces invaded Ukraine — and she said that since the war began, they have been communicating primarily by phone.
Zelenska recalled waking up the morning that the war began — she heard “weird noises” and her husband was already up, dressing in another room. “It has started,” was all he said — and she told ICTV that hearing the words out loud left her feeling “anxiety and stupor.”
“Our family was torn apart, as every other Ukrainian family,” Zelenska said of the days and weeks that followed. “He lives at his job. We didn’t see him at all for 2½ months.”
Some of their time apart may have been for their own protection, as Russian operatives were reportedly hunting the Ukrainian President in the early days of the conflict, hoping for an opportunity to take him out.
“According to our information, the enemy marked me as the number one target. My family is the number two goal,” Zelensky said in late February. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the Head of State. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv. … I am staying in the government quarter together with others.”
While he remained in Kyiv, his wife and children were take away to an undisclosed location for safety.
But when one of the ICTV hosts asked Zelenska whether she felt as though the war had “basically taken her husband away” from her, she was quick to push back. “Nobody takes my husband away from me, not even the war,” she insisted.
Zelenska, 44, came to the world of politics from entertainment as her husband did. She was a screenwriter before becoming first lady, while Zelensky was a comedian and actor who even once played the role of president before taking the job in real life.
The last time the Ukrainian First Lady was seen in public was on Mothers Day, when she met with her American counterpart firstlLady Jill Biden.
“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,” she said at the time.