Ukraine's First Lady Opens Up About Parenting During the War: 'Trying to Support Some Normal Life'

Olena Zelenska
Olena Zelenska

GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Olena Zelenska

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears it's one-year anniversary, Ukraine's First Lady says that she remains focused on ensuring her children continue to live "a normal life" amid the chaos and tragedy of war.

Speaking via a translator on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, First Lady Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska, who is married to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said: "All children in Ukraine understand what's going on, including mine. You cannot conceal anything from them and we are not trying to do so."

"In our family, we're trying to support some normal life," Zelenska, 44, added.

She continued: "I try to cuddle my children, to calm them, to reassure them. But children should live their well-organized, well-structured life. I'm trying to bring this order in to their life, and understand that sooner or later, everyone stops thinking that they do not know what's going on and what will happen tomorrow. And whether they should put a lot of effort, say, into university studies, into studies at school."

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Those daily studies, she said, will prove integral to Ukraine's recovery once the war is over.

"We should not be disillusioned. We should not give up," she said. "Because we know that Ukraine, after the war, will need educated young people that will be restoring our country and restoring normality. In the country and in our families."

Elsewhere in the interview, Zelenska said that Ukrainian women have borne "the brunt of this war," with some taking up arms to defend their country and many seeking protection underground from falling Russian munitions.

"You know, women have taken the brunt of this war in terms of ensuring that their families are OK, that their children are OK, that their children are safe. Mothers and grandmothers have stepped in to protect them," she said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Olena Zelenska
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Olena Zelenska

PressOffice of Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty

And countless families have been torn apart due to the war, with some seeking safety outside the country while others stay back to fight.

"I would not be wrong if I say that more than half of our families are divided, are separated," Zelenska told CNN. "There are some families where members are in occupation whereas other relatives are in the free area of Ukraine and they have no way of knowing what's happening with those under occupation [or] whether their relatives are still alive."

Zelenska is well-acquainted with the trials of family separation, as her own husband has spent weeks and months living at his office while leading the country through its war with Russia. (She and her children have remained in an undisclosed location.)

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In earlier interviews, Zelenska has praised her young son and teenage daughter — and youth across the country — for seeing the horror of war for what it is without overanalyzing or rationalizing it.

"Nothing specifically needed to be explained. We are just talking about everything that is happening," she told CNN last April.

Russian forces launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, marking the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

Details of the fighting have changed by the day, with scores of civilians reported dead or wounded, including children, though the actual number of deaths is difficult to determine.

More than 7 million have fled the country as refugees — and half are children, according to the United Nations. Millions more have been displaced inside Ukraine.