The Truth About Volodymyr Zelensky's Wife, Olena

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was thrust even further into the international spotlight after the Russian invasion of his country. Rather than evacuating, Zelensky remained in Ukraine, rallying his fellow citizens through social media posts which proved he had not left them behind (per CNN). President Zelensky, though, is not the only member of Ukraine's country's first family to stay behind after Putin's forces crossed their border. President Volodymyr Zelensky's wife, the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelensky, and their two children, also refused to flee, as Daily Mail reports.

In an Instagram post, Olena Zelensky delivered a message of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and to the world: "My children are looking at me. I will be next to them. And next to my husband. And with you" (via Daily Mail). For these reasons and more, Olena Zelensky has become something like a folk hero, standing tall against Russian aggression, just like her husband. Here are five things you might not know about a woman and political leader who has been brave in the face of what might just be the start of the worst European land war in decades (per PBS).

Zelensky wanted to be president, Olena disagreed

According to Hollywood Life, Olena Kiyashko met her future husband, Volodymyr Zelensky, while studying architecture in college. Volodymyr was a law student, and had aspirations to work in the entertainment industry as a comedian. The couple would date for eight years before they got married in 2003. Per Daily Mail, when Volodymr, working then as a famous comedian and actor, told his wife he sought a different kind of spotlight — this time, in politics — she was at first "aggressively opposed" to the career switch.

Soon, though, Olena supported her husband, and since then she's embraced her life as Ukraine's first lady. Once her husband won office in 2019, Olena described her new role: "I am a non-public person. But the new realities require their own rules, and I'm trying to comply with them. I can't say that publicity or communication with the press is stressful for me. But I prefer staying backstage. My husband is always on the forefront, while I feel more comfortable in the shade," she said (via People Magazine).

Comedy is a Zelensky family business

Prior to her life in politics, Olena Zelensky also worked in the entertainment industry, as a comedy writer on one Ukraine's most popular TV shows at the time, "Servant of the People," starring none other than her very own husband, Volodymyr Zelensky (per AP News). To this day, Olena Zelensky continues to write for a production company, Kvartal 95 Studio, which Volodymyr founded. Of her behind-the-scenes work, Olena said, "I am not the life of the party, I do not like to tell jokes. It's not in my character" (via People Magazine).

Once emerging on the Ukrainian political scene, though,  "I found reasons for myself in favor of publicity," Olena said. "One of them is the opportunity to attract people's attention to important social issues" (via Tatler). By 2004, Olena added a child to her busy work schedule. First came a daughter they named Oleksandra, and then a son, Kyrylo, about nine years later. During the Russian invasion of President Zelensky called himself Putin's primary target, followed closely by the rest of his family.

Olena Zelensky is a women's rights advocate

With her husband in office, Olena Zelensky wasted little time getting to work on an important issue: women's rights advocacy, in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to Hollywood Life. Thanks in part to Olena, Ukraine joined the G7 international initiative on gender equality, the Biarritz Partnership (posted at Elysee). She has also promoted the Ukrainian Women's Congress. Other positive developments for Ukraine, thanks to Olena Zelensky, include improved children's nutrition standards in school, as well as the promotion of the Ukrainian language all over the world, among other accomplishments.

Speaking at the Fifth Ukrainian Women's Congress, Olena said, "Equality is not only about equal rights, but also about equal opportunities and access for every member of society to any public space: airport, train, restaurant, cafe, pharmacy or business center. All of this is part of our commitment under the Biarritz Partnership and one of the major areas of my work, which is called 'barrier-free space.' I will note that we have taken assured steps to make barrier-free approach a new social norm," per the Ukrainian Women's Congress website.

Olena was hospitalized for COVID

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck close to home for the Zelensky family when Olena was hospitalized with moderate symptoms, described as "bilateral polysegmental pneumonia of moderate severity," according to Reuters. She did not require extra oxygen, and Volodymyr, as well as Olena's two children both tested negative. According to NDTV, Olena shared in a social media post: "Today I received a positive test for coronavirus. Unexpected news. Especially considering that I and my family continue to follow all the rules — masks, gloves, a minimum of contacts."

At the time of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian COVID cases spiked higher than ever, with about 40% of Ukrainians vaccinated, as NBC News reports. Ukraine is also in the midst of a polio outbreak, making matters just that much more urgent for Olena Zelensky and her family. Nevertheless, Olena remained steady in the face of calamity, sharing on Instagram, "Today I will not have panic. I will be calm and confident," according to Tatler.

Olena Zelensky remains in Ukraine

Olena Zelensky has not fled her country in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, choosing instead to comfort her fellow Ukrainian citizens through social media. One post showed a baby born in a Kyiv bomb shelter, according to Tatler. "This was to take place in completely different conditions, under peaceful skies. It is what children should see," Zelensky said in the post.

Olena Zelensky also wrote, "My dear people! Ukrainians! I'm looking at you all today. Everyone I see on TV, on the streets, on the Internet. I see your posts and videos. And you know what? You are incredible!" Elsewhere, she said, "'Because you are incredible, dear compatriots! In those two days, you all became an army. In the subway, bomb shelters, with children and pets (because you don't leave younger brothers either) — you do your job, you have time to take care of others, to help each other" (via Daily Mail).