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Meet the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska — here's what to know about the country's sixth First Lady

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Meet the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska — here's what to know about the country's sixth First Lady
  • Olena Zelenska became First Lady of Ukraine on May 20, 2019.
  • Born Olena Kiyashko, she was a writer for a series that starred her husband, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Olena Zelenska, 44, is the sixth First Lady of Ukraine — an honorary title she assumed on May 20, 2019, when her husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy was inaugurated as president.

Known to keep a low profile, Zelenska was further propelled into the international spotlight shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. For the past six months, much of her role has been centered on seeking humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people and maintaining diplomacy with Western countries.

She was also the subject of a controversial cover photo and profile in the July 2022 issue of Vogue, launching her further into the public eye.

Here's what you need to know about the First Lady of Ukraine.

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Olena Zelenska was born Olena Kiyashko on February 6, 1978, in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine's industrial hub

Olena Zelenska was born Olena Kiyashko on February 6, 1978, in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine's industrial hub
Olena Zelenska addresses members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on July 20, 2022.Saul Loeb/AP

Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska was raised in a Russian-speaking household as an only child.

Her mother was an engineer and manager for a construction company and her father was a professor at a technical school, according to Vogue.

Her husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy also was born in the same city, Kryvyi Rih.

The two were in junior high school when Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.

"We were teenagers in the last days of the Soviet Union," Zelenska told Vogue. "The world started to open up for us."


Zelenska started dating Volodymyr Zelenskyy while they were college students at Kryvyi Rih National University, but the two knew of each other since high school

Zelenska started dating Volodymyr Zelenskyy while they were college students at Kryvyi Rih National University, but the two knew of each other since high school
Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and Olena Zelenska (right) at the Mykhailivska Square for the 29th Independence Day celebrations in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 24, 2020.Press Office of Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Zelenska and Zelenskyy started dating in 1995, but the two knew of each other since high school, according to The Sunday Times.

The couple attended Kryvyi Rih National University, where Zelenska studied architecture and Zelenskyy studied law. Both also saw some of their earliest forays into writing and producing when they joined an amateur dramatics group.

During college, Zelenskyy found an opportunity to ask for Zelenska's phone number by asking if he could borrow a Sharon Stone film he had already seen multiple times, according to The Independent.

The couple dated for eight years and married in September 2003. They have two children: daughter Oleksandra Zelenska, 18, and son Kyrylo Zelenskyy, 9.

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Zelenska was a writer and editor of a comedy series at Studio Kvartal 95, which Zelenskyy co-founded

Zelenska was a writer and editor of a comedy series at Studio Kvartal 95, which Zelenskyy co-founded
Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and Olena Zelenska (right) after the final debate before the weekend presidential run-off on April 19, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine.Vadim Ghirda/AP

Zelenska left her architecture track and joined Zelenskyy to pursue a living in comedy.

Zelenskyy helped lead a comedy troupe to relative success, winning competitions, according to Vogue. In 2003, the couple, along with some friends, started a production company named after the district in Kryvyi where the couple grew up — Kvartal 95.

Zelenska was an editor and one of the writers for Kvartal 95's popular satirical show, "Evening Kvartal."

"My jokes don't always go over well with her," Zelenskyy said of his wife to Vogue. "She is a very good editor."

Zelenska became the First Lady of Ukraine on May 20, 2019 after expressing initial hesitance on her husband's presidential bid

Zelenska became the First Lady of Ukraine on May 20, 2019 after expressing initial hesitance on her husband's presidential bid
Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center left) and his wife Olena Zelenska (center right) greet their supporters at his headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine, after the second round of presidential elections.Vadim Ghirda/AP

Zelenska initially expressed hesitancy about her husband's presidential bid, anxious that her life would dramatically change.

"I respected his choice and I understood that this was an important step for him to make. At the same time, I felt that my life and the life of my family would change quite radically," Zelenska told Vogue. "The change would be long-lasting and quite complex ... I knew there was going to be a lot of work for me, and I was right."

His production company formed a political party, called Servant of the People, named after the enormously popular drama series he starred in. He ran with a pro-liberal and anti-establishment platform and won the election in a landslide.

Zelenska became the First Lady of Ukraine as soon as Zelenskyy was inaugurated on May 20, 2019.

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Zelenska has increasingly stepped into the role as diplomat since Russia invaded Ukraine

Zelenska has increasingly stepped into the role as diplomat since Russia invaded Ukraine
First Lady Jill Biden greets Olena Zelenska outside of School 6, a public school that has taken in displaced students in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, Sunday, May 8, 2022.Susan Walsh/AP

Though the first lady is more of an honorary title in Ukraine — as opposed to the US, where the president's spouse has a dedicated office — Zelenska led several initiatives for her country before the war, including calling for reformed school nutrition standards and a language program aimed to help spread the Ukrainian language around the world.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, her role has somewhat shifted into that of a diplomat between her country and global leaders.

In May, Zelenska met with US First Lady Jill Biden in Ukraine. She later gave an address to Congress during which she asked American leaders to step up their support in the war and visited the Bidens at the White House in July for a bilateral meeting with American officials, according to CNN.


Before her controversial Vogue photo shoot, Zelenska posed for the magazine before in 2019.

Before her controversial Vogue photo shoot, Zelenska posed for the magazine before in 2019.
Olena Zelenska participates in an Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery on September 1, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Zelenska has been known to keep a low profile, describing herself as a "non-public person."

But the Ukrainian First Lady has graced the spotlight a few times, even before her Vogue photo shoot with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz which sparked a bit of controversy.

Previously, Zelenska was featured in the Ukraine edition of Vogue in November 2019.


"I am a non-public person. But the new realities require their own rules, and I'm trying to comply with them," Zelenska told Ukraine Vogue at the time. "I can't say that publicity or communication with the press is stressful for me. But I prefer staying backstage."

Zelenska was further pushed into the public spotlight after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 22, 2022. Articles in DailyMail, The Independent, Town & Country Magazine, and elsewhere would ask who Zelenska was or how she and Zelenskyy met.

Five months later, she reappeared in Vogue for nearly all editions, including in Ukraine, for an article called "Portrait of Bravery," which received backlash. Some interpreted the feature as an attempt to glamorize the war.


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