Portrait of bravery: Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska

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Portrait of bravery: Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska

The war began early, in February, one morning. Olena ZelenskaTogether with her husband, she was in Kyiv at The Presidential Palace. Volodymyr ZelenskyyTheir two children: Oleksandra18, and Kyrylo, 9. For months, the BidenThe intelligence services of the administration have tried to warn Europe and Ukraine about a Russian invasion. However, no one has heard the warning. Volodymyr ZelenskyyYou expected it to happen.

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The president put on a suit and went into his office to declare martial laws when the invasion began. As Russian tanks invade Kiev, the president donned his military uniform. This won him the unwavering support and admiration of Ukrainians. Viktor YanukovychThe popular uprising in Maidan Square saw a large number of people flee to safety.

“These have been the most horrible months of my life, and the lives of every Ukrainian” – Olena Zelenska

There is no set of rules for first ladies in wartime. Olena Zelenskais writing her own. The wife of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr ZelenskyyShe was a comedian and writer for many years. Her husband, a politician turned comedian, preferred to be behind the scenes. Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, Zelenskasuddenly found herself on the center stage of a tragedy. When I met her on a recent rainy afternoon in Kyiv, where cafés were busy even amid frequent air-raid sirens, her luminous face and green-brown eyes seemed to capture the range of emotions coursing through Ukraine today: deep sadness, flashes of dark humor, recollections of a safer, happier past, and a steely core of national pride.

“These have been the most horrible months of my life, and the lives of every Ukrainian,” she said, speaking her country’s language through a translator. “Frankly I don’t think anyone is aware of how we have managed emotionally.”She told me that her inspiration comes from her fellow Ukrainians. “We’re looking forward to victory. We have no doubt we will prevail. And this is what keeps us going.”

I met Zelenska—surnames are gendered in Slavic languages—deep inside the presidential office compound, a heavily guarded place I had traveled long hours to reach. With Ukraine’s airspace closed to civilian flights, I took an overnight train from Poland, through landscapes that have seen some of the 20th century’s worst horrors. Once inside the compound, there were multiple security checkpoints. I also had to pass through a maze of corridors that were lined with soldiers and sandbags. The life of a soldier in wartime.

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