Olena Zelenska on her new life, her program and fashion as an instrument of cultural diplomacy
Until April 2019, we knew little about Olena Zelenska. She was rarely spotted at the beau monde parties, she did not give interviews, and she did not appear in glossy magazines, unlike her husband Vladimir Zelensky, or her colleagues from "Studio Quarter 95". "I was busy with what I liked," says Olena: from the years of college, she helped her husband in developing the Quarter 95 acts; and later she became the scriptwriter of the Studio.
A wool blazer, wool and silk turtleneck, cotton shirt, woolen skirt, all by Prada
"I am a non-public person. But the new realities require their own rules, and I'm trying to comply with them," says Olena. - I can't say that publicity or communication with the press is stressful for me. But I prefer staying backstage. My husband is always on the forefront, while I feel more comfortable in the shade. I am not the life of the party, I do not like to tell jokes. It's not in my character. But I found reasons for myself in favour of publicity. One of them is the opportunity to attract people's attention to important social issues. At the same time, this does not concern the publicity of my children: I have not posted their photos on social networks before, and now I will not either."

With the first lady Olena Zelenska we met before the interview only once, on set. The shooting lasted for seven hours, and Olena allocated Saturday for it - her day off. We started at exactly 10 a.m. at the President's Office, and we were done at exactly 5 p.m. "We completely excluded the factors of fashion and style from the shoot - we aimed at doing an unconditional portrait, a sincere one, and almost documentary," says stylist Julie Pelipas. - A genuine portrait is always the most difficult genre when it comes to filming politicians or public figures. But, I think, we managed to achieve this – thanks to Olena's openness." After that meeting, I made the first notes about Olena on Google Keep: punctual, smiling, excellent English (we had an international photography crew).
A silk blouse, wool blazer, all by Prada
Our interview takes place on Monday morning in the office of "Studio Quarter 95". The Mariupol Investment Forum kicks off on the day of the meeting, and the country's top officials have already left for there, so a number of meetings planned by Olena and her team have been cancelled. While there is an opening on the timetable, Olena came to the studio - to work on the scripts, as she has been doing for the past 15 years. "I write the scripts as before," says the First Lady. "However, now you need to divide your day between the President's Office and the "Quarter", and follow the timing." There is no institute for First Lady in Ukraine (unlike, for example, the United States or France), so, this status is rather representative, the President's spouse does not get paid, therefore, she can combine two jobs.

For six months in a new status, Olena managed to get acquainted with the areas in which the First Ladies from around the world develop their programs. "Among the spouses of the presidents there are no uninteresting personalities - each of the high ladies has something to learn from. For example, Brigitte Macron is an educator. Her program is focused on the topics of education - she creates schools for adults who, for various reasons, dropped out. During our meeting with her, she mentioned that she herself was teaching them French language and literature. Sarah Netanyahu, the spouse of Israel Prime Minister, is a practicing child psychologist. Elke Büdenbender, the First Lady of Germany, is a successful lawyer."

Olena Zelenska is a very good conversationalist. One can feel that she works with texts: her speech is logical and structured, there is no unnecessary lyrics in it. She answers our questions in detail - about her husband, about her children, her attitude to criticism in social networks, which always accompanies public figures; at the same time, she carefully selects the words. To one of the key questions for us - how she reacted to the decision of Vladimir Zelensky to run for President, she answers frankly. "I was not too happy when I realized that those were the plans. I realized how everything would change, and what difficulties we would have to face." Olena learned on January 1st from social networks that her husband had put forward his candidacy for President: Vladimir Zelensky announced his decision on the festive show of the 1+1 TV Channel, and on the first day of the new year it was in all the media. "When I asked, "Why didn't you tell me?", Vladimir answered: "I forgot." "My husband knows how to surprise," adds Olena. "But, if seriously, we had been discussing this issue for a long time, and I said that I would always support him."
ELENAREVA silk dress; Prada leather shoes
To the question of how her life has changed after the inauguration, Olena replies: "Life hasn't changed, but circumstances have. I do not have enough time alone with myself. I have got two kids, so I have rarely been alone before. I probably have had my only private space in the car, while driving. Now they have deprived me of this - I am always guarded. Now a bathroom is my only retreat (laughs). But I am lucky with people who are in my personal space now: they keep silence when I need this silence, and can maintain a conversation when they feel that it's necessary."

The Zelenskys try to maintain a lifestyle they were accustomed to and protect children from publicity. "Let them choose how they want to live. The eldest daughter, Sasha, however, has already acted in films - but I hope she will not go further in this area. The youngest, Cyril, still has a chance to have a normal childhood - to play with other children, go for sports, attend music school without attracting unnecessary attention."

Olena is wearing a cashmere cape, a wool and cashmere turtleneck, wool culottes, all by Celine by Hedi Slimane
Olena reacted to the new status pragmatically, although at first, there were second thoughts. Social work is the personal choice of the first lady; there are no official obligations on this issue. "I could continue to live my life further, keeping myself away from problems and information attacks, but I decided to support my husband: on the emotional level, it's not that easy for him, and he needs someone who will be around. And physically too: for example, to stand hand in hand during official visits, posing for photographers from around the world - and not spoiling the picture. " (Laughs)

Olena is not just accidentally joking about photos. We meet shortly after the return of the President and the First Lady from Japan, where they attended the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. The yellow dress by the Ukrainian brand FROLOV, in which Olena appeared at the afternoon ceremony, was the subject of lively discussion: there was a debate on the internet that yellow colour was allegedly prohibited in Japan. They worried in vain: after the event, on the official page of the Embassy of Japan in Ukraine, a message appeared that "the outfit of the First Lady emphasized the respect of Ukrainians for the culture of Japan." Olena says that during the trip she was pleased with her looks and the response of Japanese people to it - until she read coverage in the Ukrainian media.
"I am pleased when they ask me in New York or Paris who is the designer of my outfit. And they do ask me. And it wouldn't be as exciting to name a major western brand, which they already know there, but how nice it is to promote Ukrainian designers to the world."
It is basically impossible to make a mistake in the dress code: before any diplomatic trip, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends a protocol note to the President's Office, which contains all the nuances of the visit. Designer Ivan Frolov says that he was commissioned to create two dresses for the First Lady a month before the trip. "Our team got well prepared: we studied the Japanese ceremonial protocol. The cardinal rule was that the colour should be appropriate for the season, so we settled on a pastel yellow outfit for the day ceremony and pastel blue for the dinner." Frolov executed fives sketches for each dress, and then Olena made her choice.

The First Lady sees her public appearances as an opportunity to tell about her country and showcase garments made by Ukrainian designers. So, during one of her first diplomatic trips, to Brussels, Olena wore the beige SIX. pantsuit, during the meeting with Brigitte Macron she had ELENAREVA suit on, and also appeared wearing Vita Kin and Lake Studio. "I am pleased when they ask me in New York or Paris who is the designer of my outfit. And they do ask me. And it wouldn't be as exciting to name a major western brand, which they already know there, but how nice it is to promote Ukrainian designers to the world."
Olena is wearing a cashmere cape, wool and cashmere turtleneck, wool culottes, all by Celine by Hedi Slimane
It took half a year for Olena and her team to decide upon the priority tasks in the status of the first lady. She says that she developed the program mostly subjectively. "I grew up in Kryvyi Rih, I have been living in this country all my life, and I understand how many problems we have got. But if I'm going to grab onto everything, it won't work, so our team decided to focus on specific tasks: children's health, equal opportunities for all Ukrainians and cultural diplomacy."

One of the tasks is to reform school nutrition. "The sooner children are educated to eat healthy, the easier it is to explain later that broccoli is better than sausage," Zelenska voices the thoughts that are clear to every parent. - In schools, if children do not like their lunch, they head to a nearby kiosk and buy whatever they like, without thinking about the benefits or harms. Therefore, it is not surprising why the most common health problems among children are diseases of the gastrointestinal tract." This fall, Olena's team held a round table with relevant Ministries, while for the next year the Ukraine's Ministry of Health is going to present the new programme of nutrition in schools.
Aleksandra is wearing a Prada leather sheepskin coat; a Caramel silk dress. Olena is dressed in a cashmere cape, wool and cashmere turtleneck, all by Celine by Hedi Slimane
Olena often accompanies her husband during his trips overseas, and tries to enhance the program of visits with what may be useful for her work in the status of the First Lady: for example, she visited Japanese and Canadian medical centres which are working with issues of inclusion and children's health. She learned about how children's nutrition and sports activities are organized in schools in Latvia and Japan. "In Japan, for example, there is a nutritionist in every school, that pays special attention to the nutrition of children with allergies, and the kitchens in schools are completely separated and sterile, like an operations room. I sourced numerous ideas and became convinced that making positive changes is real, you just have to sincerely crave something, and work hard."

A cotton shirt, cotton blazer, cotton trousers, all by Lemaire; Jimmy Choo patent leather shoes (tsum.ua)
Experts are helping the First Lady to analyse key social problems and come up with a strategy for solving them. The TV host Masha Efrosinina, the Ambassador of the UN Fund for Population in Ukraine, became a guide to the difficult topic of combating domestic violence. "Every year, 1 million of Ukrainian women suffer from domestic violence, and their children suffer along with them," says Masha. - There is a hotline for domestic violence victims in Ukraine, but there are only two consultants working, and it's not of a national scale. When I told Olena that no one actually knows the telephone number of this line, she emotionally responded: "Do you want me to write it on a badge and wear it myself?.." We both understand that to achieve a tangible result, the hotline should function on the state level. Therefore, in 2020, under the patronage of the First Lady, the Ministry of Social Policy is going to launch the National Call Centre, where they will, lightning fast, respond to women's calls, and work as is customary throughout the world - in cooperation with the police, social services and psychologists."
Prada wool jacket; Lemaire cotton shirt
The program of the first lady provides for the support of Paralympics as well, and the development of inclusive infrastructure in the cities of Ukraine. "It seems to me that we can make a lot of difference - first of all, in the attitude of society towards people with disabilities," Olena says. Her team collaborates with Valery Sushkevich, the founder of the Paralympic movement in Ukraine, authorized appointee by the President for the rights of people with disabilities. In 2020, Olena Zelenska plans to support the Ukraine National Team at the Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo. "Olena could become a promoter of equal rights and opportunities. If the First Lady is joining the national team at the Paralympic Games and marches as a part of the column, this is a great sign both for the society, and for leaders of other countries," says Valery. - It is very important to me that she did not ignore this topic, did not pull back. I am glad that Olena understands the connection between the international success of Ukrainian Paralympics and attitudes within society. Paralympic victories give Ukrainians a certain drive and self-confidence." In addition, the attention of the First Lady, suggests Sushkevich, would provide opportunities for a faster integration of representatives of the new government into this topic.

Olena is wearing a cashmere cape, wool and cashmere turtleneck, wool culottes, leather boots, all by Celine by Hedi Slimane
Olena formulates the main bonus of her status in almost the same way as Valery, only in other words: the First Lady is always heard. "The President's spouse has the opportunity to communicate with those who are close to power. Doors of officials do not close before the First Lady. I'm not a politician, and I do not have the right to interfere in the President's work, but to become an intermediary between people and officials, so that the latter will hear the first, I can and I am really willing to."
Aleksandra is wearing a Prada leather sheepskin coat; a silk dress, leather boots, tights, all by Caramel. Olena is wearing a cashmere cape, leather boots, all by Celine by Hedi Slimane. Kirill is wearing a cotton jacket, cotton trousers, leather boots, all by Caramel
Text: Daria Slobodjanik
Photo: Paul Bellaart
Style: Julie Pelipas
Hairstyles: Line Bille @A Management
Makeup: Stine Rasmussen @A Management
Producer: Marina Sandugey-Shyshkina
Photo assistants: Thijs Bosma, Florence Schreinemachers
Stylist assistant: Mari Siviakova, Sveta Manoukyan
Production assistant: Ediye Derbysheva
Thanks: Broncolor Ukraine (photorental.com.ua); Indposhiv Bespoke House (indposhiv.ua)