Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “forgot” to tell his wife, Olena Zelenska, that he was running for president ahead of the 2019 elections, the two said in an interview with Sky News Australia published Wednesday.
Instead, she found out when the rest of her country did — on television.
“I saw his new year’s address and found out he was actually running,” she said.
“I was not laughing so much,” Zelensky said, taking the interviewer’s suggestion to apologize to his wife.
The interview was one of many public appearances Zelenska has made in the past few weeks, after spending weeks in hiding since the start of the war, when she moved from one safe house to the next.
She has since returned to the spotlight on an international charm offensive, addressing the US Congress last week as part of Ukraine’s outreach for Western support in its struggle for survival.
“Help us to stop this terror against Ukrainians,” she implored lawmakers as she appeared in person to show them images of children maimed by Russia, four months after her husband made a virtual appearance.
Zelenska noted she was the first wife of a foreign leader to address Congress in an impassioned appeal that earned her a standing ovation and plaudits from the wider political establishment.
But the diplomacy does not come easily.
“I have always been a non-public person and did not like the additional attention to myself,” she told Elle magazine a few months before the February 24 invasion.
“But in two and a half years as the first lady a lot has changed for me… I understand well that fate gave me a unique chance to communicate with people.”
When Zelenska went to bed on February 23, she could not possibly have known she would not sleep alongside her husband again for months.
While the president was determined to stay put, the first lady went with the children into hiding, her campaigns for improved school lunches and promoting Ukrainian language and culture abroad put indefinitely on hold.
“Today I will not panic and cry. I will be calm and confident,” she told the people of Ukraine in a message posted to Facebook that day. “My kids are watching me.”
During the weeks that followed, the only glimpses the family caught of Zelensky were his appearances on television and social media, as video calls were out of the question.
Her return to the public spotlight came at a meeting with US First Lady Jill Biden in western Ukraine on May 8, marking the start of her transformation into a sought-after global figure.
Driven by a powerful imperative to make up for those weeks lost on the road, she has packed her schedule, connecting with the wives of leaders in France, Israel, Poland and Lithuania, making speeches and giving interviews.
Other than a brief reunion in May, Zelenska and her husband were apart for her entire time out of Kyiv, giving her insight into the pain of permanent separation felt by those who had lost loved ones.