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Veronika Szűcs Rajničová
March 19, 2022, 11:52am
Reading time: 4:46

The Story of Olena Zelenska: The First Lady Showing the World the Female Face of War

Olena Zelenska became one of the most influential women in Ukraine before the war even started. Her program is, in many ways, reminiscent of the former First Lady of the United States.

Veronika Szűcs Rajničová
March 19, 2022, 11:52am
Reading time: 4:46
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The Story of Olena Zelenska: The First Lady Showing the World the Female Face of War
Zdroj: Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker
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"Ukraine wants peace. But we will defend his borders. Our identity. We will never give up. Protect our sky and we will take care of the war on earth ourselves," writes in an open letter Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine. Like her husband, she remained in Ukraine after the invasion by Russian troops. This gesture became a support not only for the head of state, but also for the population.


The open letter is called I Testify. In it, Zelenská does not talk about herself, but about the lives of dozens of children who lost their lives in the current war. Children who lost their parents or access to basic health care. She talks about children who were born in shelters and are in danger of never experiencing peace.


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Príspevok, ktorý zdieľa Olena Zelenska (@olenazelenska_official)


Women at War 

"Before the war (how scary and still unusual it is to say that), I once wrote that there are 2 million more women than men in Ukraine. It's just statistics. But now it is taking on a whole new meaning now. Because it means that our current defence also has a particularly feminine face," Zelenska wrote.


She praised the soldiers, nurses and other Ukrainian women who are trying to help within the current situation. She is hiding in a shelter in an unspecified place. It wouldn't even work otherwise, as she and their children, are the number two target, right after the president.


However, she tries to stay active on social networks. On the eighteenth day of the war, she talked to ABC News on Whatsapp. She wrote a simple but urgent message: "STOP WAR."


Through Instagram, where she is followed by 2.6 million people, she shows the world the real face of the country in the war. This week, for example, she published a photo from a mass grave in Mariupol. She also draws attention to the fake news that Russian propaganda is spreading.


On the social network Telegram, she addresses parents and children, shares practical advice, explains how they can mitigate the impact of conflict on their psyche, and refers to crisis education.

They won't close the doors on the First Lady 

Olena Zelenska became one of the most influential women in Ukraine before the war, although she didn't have to be. The first lady has no formal obligations. However, this function comes with a certain force that eventually convinced her to go out of her way and seize the opportunity to the fullest. 


"The president's wife has the opportunity to talk to those who are close to power. The statesman's door will not close on the first lady. I am not a politician and I do not have the right to interfere in the president's work, but I can become a mediator between the people and the authorities," she told Vogue.


In addition, she admitted to the journalist that she was not enthusiastic at first about her husband's candidacy for president, as this would mean a new direction for their lives and an end to their privacy.

Although they had been talking about the candidacy for a long time, she officially learned about his final decision from social media: "When I asked him why he didn't tell me, Volodymyr replied, 'I forgot.' My husband knows how to surprise me."



Although the presidential couple comes from the same city (Kryvyi Rih) and had many acquaintances in common, they became a couple while in college. Olena studied architecture and Volodymyr studied law. Both eventually ended up in the television industry.

Olena helped her husband start the production company Kvartal 95 and later wrote screenplays for the series Servant of the Nation, where the future president played the lead role. They have two children - Olexandra and Kyrylo.

Healthy food an accessible cities


The nature of her work outside the spotlight and hor role as a mother motivated her to protect her privacy as much as she could. At the beginning of Zelenskyy's term, she still divided her time between screenwriting and her new state role.

It took six months for her and the team to sort out her thoughts and decide what her first lady's priorities would be. The program is in many ways reminiscent of one of the most popular first ladies in modern history, Michelle Obama.

One of the priorities was food in schools. Zelenska wants to make schools cook healthy and tasty food for the children and educate them on why the importance of nutritious and balanced diet. The food reform has reached parliament and has come into effect beginning of this year.


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Príspevok, ktorý zdieľa Olena Zelenska (@olenazelenska_official)


She also supported the Ukrainian Paralympic team and advocates that the country and its citizens be more friendly to people with disabilities. She has negotiated with cities to build inclusive infrastructure without barriers.


During lockdowns, she pointed out how the pandemic exacerbated the problem of domestic violence, and even identified violence against women as the country's second most serious health problem after the Covid. She is trying to improve the emergency lines, which at the time of her arrival had a total of two workers and did not even work throughout the whole of Ukraine.


"I really believe in soft power and cultural diplomacy," Olena told the Diplomatic Courrier, and she seems to be doing well. Thanks to it, Ukraine has joined the G7 initiative for gender equality.


In June 2020, the Zelenska launched an initiative in support of the Ukrainian language . Thanks to it, Ukrainian is heard in several world museums.

Even in difficult times of war, she spoke via Instagram to the first ladies and gentlemen, the wives of the presidents. She recalls the August summit in Kiev and thanks for the support given to Ukraine by the Heads of State and Partners:


"You responded to my request and told the truth about what is happening in Ukraine, despite the Kremlin's fake news. You donated money and humanitarian aid, provided housing for Ukrainians who had to leave temporarily, and provided medical assistance for Ukrainian children who needed immediate treatment. Thank you all and I now dream of being able to hug you in person. "


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Príspevok, ktorý zdieľa Olena Zelenska (@olenazelenska_official)


What her dresses are saying 

Olena Zelenská began appearing at public events and attracted the attention not only of the political world, but also of the fashion world. Her wardrobe is dominated by pantsuits and sheath dresses in pastel tones and neutral colours.


Most of them comes from the workshop of Ukrainian fashion designers. During her visit to Japan, she presented the Frolov brand to the world. When she shook hands with Brigitte Macron, journalists took a picture of her in an Elenarev costume. During one of her first diplomatic visits to Brussels, she proudly wore Six.


"I'm happy to be asked who designed my outfit, when I am in New York or Paris. And they really care. It would not be as exciting was I to tell them the name of a well-known Western brand, which they all already know," Olena Zelenská told Vogue


Fashion, too, is a way through which she seeks to represent Ukraine to the world in a positive light, as a country full of talent that can compete with the rest of Europe.


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Thumbnail: Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker
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