Ukraine’s First Lady Discusses Family Resilience Amid War’s Toll

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In a revealing and deeply personal conversation, Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, spoke candidly about the emotional toll the ongoing war has exacted on her family. “At times my desires lean towards the selfish, longing for my husband, not the historical figure, at my side,” she confessed, expressing their mutual yearning for the familial closeness they once enjoyed.

Despite the physical and emotional toll, Zelenska emphasized the shared resilience of her family, “Our strength, both emotional and physical, holds us steady. United, we will weather this tempest,” she declared.

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When the chill winds of war swept into Ukraine by way of Russian invasion in February 2022, Zelenska and her children were forced into a hidden existence, their locations cloaked in secrecy. Launched into a whirlwind of perpetual uncertainty, she labeled the early days as lived “in a cauldron of ceaseless adrenaline.” As time wore on, a certain necessity to adapt and live under these altered conditions allowed her to find a measure of equilibrium.

Leaving her shadowed retreat last year, Zelenska, once a scriptwriter, was thrust into the global stage by the repercussions of war. She traveled the length and breadth of the globe, meeting with global leaders, and articulating her experiences through speeches.

Expressing the family’s fragility under war’s specter, she explained the forced separation from her husband, “The President and I, sadly, live apart. The opportunity to catch fleeting moments together is rare. My son yearns for his father’s presence.”

The bleak uncertainties of life in a war zone have claimed an immense emotional toll on her children, she says. “It’s heartbreaking to witness the stunted dreams of my children. My daughter, nineteen and full of youth, dreams of travel and new experiences. Regrettably, such opportunities are not viable at present. There are rules to our existence in these times, somber boundaries we are forced to live within.”

High school sweethearts who shared their creative pursuits in a comedy troupe and television studio, Olena Zelenska and President Volodymyr Zelensky have walked a shared path. Today, she reconciles herself to his newly-acquired status as a historical figure, confessing she longs for the times when he was merely her husband, standing by her side.

In her ‘selfish’ craving for her husband, Zelenska nevertheless stands steadfast in her belief of his strength and willpower. “Indeed, the President possesses a dire, obstinate energy, a tenacity and inspiration, that matches the gravity of this war,” she asserted.

Largely, her focus as the first lady has been on facilitating Ukrainians to navigate the psychological trauma brought by the war. Anticipating the co-hosting of a mental health and resilience summit in Kyiv, alongside British actor and mental health activist Stephen Fry, she hopes to invigorate others with hope, and offer guidance by example.

“We tread forward, live, and work; may my journey serve as an example and source of inspiration to others,” she expressed. In the wake of an unimaginably cruel and bloody war, she finds herself in an unanticipated role at an unimagined time, bearing witness to the unpredictable cruelties of life in the 21st Century.

Caught in a state of flux, Ukrainians may grapple with certainties regarding their future, yet remain unyielding in their hope. “We harbor a profound hope for victory, though its arrival is uncertain. The enduring wait, the relentless stress, exacts a significant toll,” concluded Olena Zelenska.