WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, says the war with Russia has not changed her husband but only revealed to the world his determination to prevail and the fact that he is a man you can rely on.
Zelenska, in an interview published Friday in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, also said she has not seen her husband, 44-year-old Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, since Russia invaded Ukraine.
When Zelenska woke up on Feb. 24, the day the war began, her husband was already awake and dressed. He told her simply: “It’s started,” and left for the office in Kyiv, she recalled.
“Since Feb. 24, I have been seeing my husband just like you — on TV and on the video recordings of his speeches,” she said.
Zelenska said the couple’s two children were with her but she did not disclose their location.
She accused Russia of trying to carry out a genocide against the Ukrainian people and expressed her sympathy with the more than 11 million Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homes.
Poland has accepted the largest number of them, with 3 million crossing into Poland since the war began and 1.6 million Ukrainians registering for national identification numbers, indicating they plan to remain for some time. Most are women and children.
“I wish I could hug each of them. It is easy to imagine the difficult path they went through, escaping from basements or bunkers in Mariupol, from shelling in Kharkiv, from the occupied Kyiv region, and even from Lviv or Odesa, which were also under fire from Russian missiles,” she said.
She also thanked Poles for their efforts to help Ukrainians, a message her husband also delivered to the Polish media on Friday.
The newspaper, making clear that it interviewed Zelenska remotely, asked her if the war had changed her husband, the former comedic actor who has rallied and united Ukraine as a wartime leader, winning respect worldwide.
“The war has not changed him,” she replied. “He has always been a man you can rely on. A man who will never fail. Who will hold out until the end. It’s just that now the whole world has seen what may not have been clear to everyone before.”
She was also asked if she had a message for the mothers, wives and sisters of Russian soldiers. Zelenska said she did not, because “nothing gets through to them.”
“During those two months, as their sons are being killed in Ukraine as criminals and occupiers, they had time to define their position. Since there is no such declaration — if the coffins do not convince them that something is wrong here — then I have nothing to say to them,” she said.
Follow all AP stories on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.