Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska has revealed that her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, has been unable to see their two children since the start of the war with Russia more than five months ago because of ongoing safety concerns.
Zelenska, 44, opened up about her family’s forced separation — and the heavy burden of being in the spotlight on the world stage — in a new Vogue article published on Tuesday and featuring photos of the first lady in wartime Kyiv that were taken by Annie Leibovitz.
Speaking to a Vogue reporter in Kyiv, Zelenska credited having her children by her side with helping her get through this difficult time and insisted she would not have been able to “survive” without them.
But her husband has so far has been unable to reunite with their kids because of unspecified security concerns.
“He’s having a much harder time in this regard,” Zelenska told Vogue. “He suffers. And then my kids do, too, because they can’t see each other.”
On his part, President Zelensky, 44, told Vogue in a separate interview that he has been “worried sick” about his family.
“I didn’t want them to be put in danger. It’s not about romance. It’s about horrors that were happening here in Kyiv’s outskirts and all those horrors that are happening now in our country, in occupied territories,” the comedian-turned-politician said of being separated from his family.
“But of course I’ve been missing them. I’ve wanted to hug them so much. I’ve wanted to be able to touch them.”
Despite being with her children, Zelenska revealed that she feels “isolated” because she is unable to move freely. An everyday task like going shopping is “a dream that cannot be realized,” she said.
Zelenska described the last five months since Russian forces invaded her country on Feb. 24 as “the most horrible months of my life, and the lives of every Ukrainian.”
“Frankly I don’t think anyone is aware of how we have managed emotionally,” the mother-of-two added.
At the start of the war, it was widely reported that President Zelensky was the Russian army’s number 1 target, while his wife and children were target number 2.
“I can’t think about it too seriously, because otherwise I would become paranoid,” she said of the notion of being in the enemy’s crosshairs.
As the first artillery shells began raining down on Ukrainian cities and villages, Zelenska and her children, Oleksandra, 18, and Kyrylo, 9, were whisked away to an undisclosed location for their own safety.
After spending several months in hiding, Zelenska emerged in early May to take a more active role in the war effort by meeting visiting dignitaries, attending public events and giving interviews to boost morale in the war-torn country.
Asked about his wife’s new role as the face of Ukraine in global arena, Zelensky highlighted Olena’s “strong personality.”
“And probably she is stronger than she thought she was,” he added. “And this war—well, any war is probably bound to bring out qualities you never expected to have.”
On a more personal note, the president said Olena, whom he met 26 years ago when they were still in high school, was his “best friend” who shared his patriotism and love of Ukraine.
“Of course she is my love. But she is my greatest friend,” he said.