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What to know about Ukraine's first lady, who's seen by many as a voice of hope

Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been inspiring many with her social media posts about the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
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With a massive Russian military convoy moving closer and closer to Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, all eyes are on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his family.

Zelenskyy, 44, has inspired many over the past week with his calls for strength and unity. And his wife, Olena Zelenska, 44, has been speaking out with equal passion against the conflict.

The first lady’s exact location is unknown, but she is believed to have remained in Ukraine along with her husband and their two children, Sasha and Cyril — a risky decision, considering that Zelenskyy has said he is Russia’s “target No. 1” and that his family is “target No. 2.”

Zelenska is drawing widespread praise for her presumed decision to remain in Ukraine, and for sharing the realities of the crisis on social media.

“This is how Ukraine looks right now. 💔 Here is a video for the world to see — we are at war,” she captioned a recent Instagram video showing clips of the violence in Ukraine. “Because of Putin’s attack, Ukrainians have to take their children to basements every night and fight the enemy beneath the walls of their homes. Ukraine is a peaceful country. We are against the war and did not attack first. But we are not going to give up. The whole world, look: we are fighting for peace in your countries as well.”

In another recent Instagram post, the first lady shared a photo of her country's flag, writing in the caption, translated from the Ukrainian language: “And today I will not have panic and tears. I will be calm and confident. My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And together with you."

Here are some key things to know about Ukraine's first lady.

She was originally a comedy scriptwriter

Like her husband, whom she met in college, Zelenska’s background is not in politics but in the entertainment industry.

While Zelenskyy appeared in front of the camera as a TV comedian and personality, Zelenska worked for years behind the scenes as a comedy writer and screenwriter.

Ukrainian President Zelensky Looks For Mandate From Snap General Election
Zelenska and Zelenskyy cast their ballots in parliamentary elections in July 2021 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

When her husband took office, she continued her work and found ways to balance her political life with her existing career, she told Vogue Ukraine in 2019.

She is fiercely protective of her family’s privacy

Zelenska described herself as a “non-public person” to Vogue Ukraine in 2019, the year her husband took office.

Voters Go To The Polls In Ukraine's General Election
The couple cast their ballots in the 2019 presidential election in Kyiv.Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

She admitted that she was “not too happy” when she learned Zelenskyy, who had no previous political experience, was running for president. 

“I realized how everything would change, and what difficulties we would have to face,” she said.

29th Independence Day celebration in Ukraine
Zelenskyy and Zelenska laid the wreath on the monument at Mykhailivska Square as part of Ukraine's 29th independence day celebrations in Kyiv in August 2020. Press Office of Ukrainian Presidency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

However, since being thrust into the spotlight as the first lady, Zelenska said that she did her best to adjust.

“The new realities require their own rules, and I’m trying to comply with them,” she told the publication. “I can’t say that publicity or communication with the press is stressful for me. But I prefer staying backstage.” 

She also emphasized that while she and her husband may be leading a more public life now, the privacy of their children remains paramount.

“I have not posted their photos on social networks before, and now I will not either,” she said.

She champions humanitarian causes

While initially reluctant to take on the public-facing role of first lady, Zelenska has embraced the opportunity her position gives her to advocate for causes she cares deeply about.

"The thing is..." exhibition opens within framework of "16 Days against violence" international campaign at Mykhailivska Square
In late 2020, Zelenska spoke at the opening of "The thing is...", an exhibition that was part of the "16 Days against violence" international campaign in Kyiv. Yevhen Kotenko/ Ukrinform / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

“I found reasons for myself in favor of publicity,” she told Vogue Ukraine. “One of them is the opportunity to attract people’s attention to important social issues.”

During her husband’s time in office, Zelenska has championed causes including women’s rights and children’s development — issues that have come to the forefront during the current crisis in Ukraine. 

She recently shared an Instagram post praising the women who were staying in Ukraine to defend their country, sharing photos of women in combat gear as well as women who appear to be aid workers caring for children. 

“Before the war (how scary and still unusual it is to say this), I once wrote that there are 2 million more women than men in Ukraine," she wrote in the caption, translated from Ukrainian. "Just statistics. But now it is taking on a whole new meaning. Because it means that our current opposition also has a special feminine face."

She also shared an Instagram post about Ukrainian infants born in bomb shelters, saying that one day, the newborns “will live in a peaceful country that has defended itself."