KYIV | A screenwriter by profession, Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska, was reluctant to move from behind the scenes to the front of the political stage, but since the Russian invasion, she has continued to raise her voice to advocate for her people. .
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Unlike Volodymyr Zelensky, one of the country's best-known comedians before his election as president in 2019, his wife, 44, has been reluctant to take public positions.
At the start of the Russian offensive, she spent several weeks in hiding, moving from cover to cover as troops from Moscow approached Kyiv.
The svelte blonde with long hair and a reserved, close to classic style, has since come back strong with an international charm offensive, addressing the US Congress this week to ask for more Western support for Ukraine.
"Help us put an end to this terror against the Ukrainians", she implored, at the end of tears, the American representatives by showing them in person images of crippled children, four months after the intervention by videoconference from her husband.
Ms. Zelenska pointed out that she was the first wife of a foreign leader to address Congress, which earned her a standing ovation.
However, the art of diplomacy does not come naturally to him.
"I've always been a non-public figure and I don't like the extra attention given to me," she told Elle magazine a few months before the invasion.
"In two and a half years as first lady, many things have changed for me (...) I am aware that fate has given me a unique chance to communicate with people," she said. added.
A graduate in architecture, Olena Kiachko, by her maiden name, grew up in Kryvy Rig, in central Ukraine, where her husband is also from.
The couple met when they were 17 and their friendship blossomed into romance as they began their careers in the entertainment industry, he as a comedian and she writing her jokes.
"I'm not going to panic"
They married in 2003 before moving to Kyiv, giving birth to Oleksandra, now 17, and her younger brother Kyrylo, 9.
Unknown to the public with the election of her husband in 2019 and very happy as well, Olena Zelenska assured during interviews that her husband did not warn her when he decided to run for president.
She learned the news like everyone else: on social media and seemed uncomfortable during official events at the start of her term.
“He is a person of duty”, analyzes Anna Tchaplyguina, specialist in etiquette. "It's not Michelle Obama", much more comfortable in the spotlight, but rather "Kate Middleton in her early days" in the royal family.
"She never dreamed and never aspired to become first lady and she found herself there by chance -- and in the middle of a planetary crisis," Ms. Tchappliguina told AFP.
When she went to bed on February 23, the day before the invasion, Ms. Zelenska had no idea that she would not be sleeping next to her husband for several months.
While Volodymyr Zelensky was determined not to flee the Russian forces, his wife went into hiding with the children, suspending her campaigns for better school meals and the promotion of Ukrainian language and culture in foreign.
“Today I am not going to panic and cry. I will be calm and confident,” she told her compatriots in a Facebook post that day. “My children look at me.”
'More lives saved'
In the weeks that followed, the family only got to see Volodymyr Zelensky during his social media and media appearances.
Ms. Zelenska's return to the limelight came during a meeting with US First Lady Jill Biden in western Ukraine on May 8.
Since then, the Ukrainian has filled her schedule with contacts with the wives of the French, Israeli, Polish and Lithuanian leaders or by giving speeches and giving interviews.
In the United States, she moved lawmakers with images of Liza Dmitrieva, a four-year-old girl she had met who was killed by a Russian strike last week in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine.
For Aliona Getmantchouk, director of the New Europe Center, a think tank in Kyiv, Ms Zelenska's personal touch helped "reinforce the message" about the plight in which her country finds itself.
“She talked about humanitarian needs, which is a usual topic for the first lady, but she also showed that in the case of Ukraine, more military aid means more lives saved.”