Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska opens up about first day of the Russian invasion

The First Lady of Ukraine opened up to Vogue Ukraine about her experience

The First Lady of Ukraine opened up to Vogue Ukraine about her experience

Olena Zelenska opened up about her experience of the war raging on her country’s soil to Ukrainian Vogue this week.

The 44-year-old scriptwriter gave a moving interview to the magazine, that in happier times, after her husband’s successful presidential bid she featured on the cover of. Zelenska, who has refused to shy away and hide in the face of danger, revealed how she woke up on the 25 February to the sound of a loud “clunk”.

“I woke up, sometime between 4 and 5 am, because of a clunk,” she recalled.

“I didn’t immediately realise it was an explosion. I didn’t understand what it could be. My husband wasn’t in bed. But when I got up, I saw him at once, already dressed, in a suit as usual (this was the last time I’d see him in a suit and a white shirt – from then on it was military). 'It started.” That’s all he said.'"

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Zelenska explains that neither of them felt panic in the face of Russian bombing, instead she describes feeling “confused” about what to do and where to go. “’What should we do with the children?’ ‘Wait,’ he said, ‘I’ll let you know. Just in case, gather essentials and documents.’ And he left the house’”

This was one of the last times Zelenska saw her husband. The Presidential offices became the military headquarters and her children were forbidden from staying there, so the mother-of-two was taken to a “safe place”, where they are forced, like most Ukrainians, to shelter from the bombs in a pitch-black basement.

Heartbreakingly Zelenska revealed that she has not been able to see her husband since the early days of the invasion, almost two months ago now, communicating exclusively on the phone.

As a mother, she explained how it was impossible to shield her children from the reality of war, admitting that she had “discussed everything” with 17-year-old Oleksandra and nine-year-old Kyrylo.

“This is not something that children should see – but children are very honest and sincere. You can’t hide anything from them. Therefore, the best strategy is the truth.”

Asked what we us in the West can do to help, Zelenska stressed that the most important thing is to not grow complacent and to welcome refugees with open arms.

“Continue going to protests, continue to demand that your governments take action,” she said. “Ukrainians are the same as you, but just over a month ago, our lives changed radically. Ukrainians did not want to leave their homes. But so often they did not have homes left.”

Since the Russian invasion more than 10 million people are already thought to have fled their homes in Ukraine according to the United Nations.

As well as the 4.3 million who have left for neighbouring countries, another 6.5 million people are thought to be displaced inside the war-torn country itself.

Juliana Piskorz

Juliana Piskorz is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. Over the course of her career she has written for a smorgasbord of magazines and national newspapers including The Sunday Times, Dazed and Confused, the Independent, the Guardian, Refinery29 and The Face among others.

Before going freelance, Juliana was the Digital Editor at the Evening Standard Magazine and a Staff Writer at the Observer Magazine.

Juliana has a partcular interest in art, fashion, travel and the pop culture.