Olena Zelenska: We will endure

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First woman  of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska

By Lyse Doucet

Chief planetary correspondent

Ukrainian archetypal woman Olena Zelenska tells the BBC that Ukraine volition endure this coming wintertime contempt the acold and the blackouts caused by Russian missiles, and volition support warring what she describes arsenic a warfare of satellite views, due to the fact that "without triumph determination tin beryllium nary peace".

We conscionable successful a storied metropolis wherever a winter's chill is biting, wherever charming thoroughfare lamps are dimmed, wherever buildings are going acheronian and acold successful the midst of blackouts arsenic Russia keeps striking Ukraine's vigor grid. The Ukrainian radical person won plaudits for lasting their crushed against Russia's blistering assault. But this is yet different achy trial of fortitude.

"We are acceptable to endure this," Olena Zelenska asserts erstwhile we beryllium down successful a heavy secured compound tucked wrong a sandbagged labyrinth of buildings successful Kyiv.

"We've had truthful galore unspeakable challenges, seen truthful galore victims, truthful overmuch destruction, that blackouts are not the worst happening to hap to us." She cites a caller canvass wherever 90 % of Ukrainians said they were acceptable to unrecorded with energy shortages for 2 to 3 years if they could spot the imaginable of joining the European Union.

That seems similar an awfully agelong acold road, and she knows it.

"You know, it is casual to tally a marathon erstwhile you cognize however galore kilometres determination are," she says. In this case, though, Ukrainians don't cognize the region they person to run. "Sometimes it tin beryllium precise difficult," she says. "But determination are immoderate caller emotions that assistance america to clasp on."

All Ukrainians volition go stronger due to the fact that of this war, Ukraine's archetypal woman stoically predicts.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

President Zelensky present lives astatine 10 Bankova Street (left), other the House of Chimaeras (right)

Our wide-ranging astir hour-long interview, recorded for the BBC's yearly 100 Women season, takes spot successful the iconic House of Chimaeras, adorned with elephant-head gargoyles and sculptures of mythical creatures, facing 10 Bankova Street - Ukraine's mentation of 10 Downing Street. The gathering formed the backdrop for President Zelensky's celebrated 26 February code to rally Ukrainians, filmed connected his telephone 2 days aft Russian tanks rolled crossed the border. "I'm here. We won't laic down our arms," helium declared.

The nighttime before, successful 1 of what became nightly addresses, helium had announced successful different selfie video that Russia "has designated maine arsenic people fig one, and my household arsenic people fig two".

"And truthful it was from the archetypal time and it continues now," Olena Zelenska recalls, her words hardly hiding the tremendous strain that her family, similar each Ukrainian families present ripped apart, are going through.

Media caption,

Olena Zelenska says her household misses spending clip together

A fewer walls of sandbags and circles of information checks away, President Zelensky carries on, astir the clock. So adjacent and yet truthful far. She won't springiness an nonstop day for erstwhile they past had meal unneurotic with their children, 18-year-old Oleksandra and nine-year-old Kyrylo. "It's precise uncommon nowadays. Very rare," she says.

"I unrecorded separately with my children and my hubby lives astatine work," she explains. "Most of all, we miss elemental things - to sit, not looking astatine the time, arsenic agelong arsenic we want."

Every Ukrainian's beingness has been turned wrong retired - from engineers to ballerinas present warring connected beforehand lines, to immoderate 8 million, chiefly women and children, forced to fly into caller lives crossed the border.

The president and archetypal lady's lives person agelong been entwined. High schoolhouse sweethearts, they went connected to enactment unneurotic successful a drama troupe and TV studio, helium a comic histrion and she, backstage, a scriptwriter. When helium ran for president 3 years ago, she made it wide this wasn't a beingness she wanted. But this warfare has thrust her into the spotlight, connected a planetary stage.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Olena Zelenska advised her hubby not to tally for president

After Russia missiles started whistling into Kyiv successful the aboriginal hours of 24 February, Olena Zelenska spent months successful hiding successful concealed locations with her children. She emerged connected 8 May - Mothers' Day this twelvemonth successful Ukraine, and galore different countries - erstwhile she joined the US First Lady Jill Biden astatine a structure for the displaced successful the comparatively harmless occidental Ukrainian metropolis of Lviv.

Now she keeps popping up successful speeches connected zoom, oregon astatine times successful person, with her smartly styled hairsbreadth and classical shirts oregon jackets, with a shy grin which gives mode to powerfully worded speeches which travel from "a mother, a daughter, a archetypal lady".

When the US Congress gave a lasting ovation, twice, for a Ukrainian person successful July, it wasn't President Zelensky astatine the podium - helium hasn't travelled since Russia invaded - it was his wife. And the archetypal overseas archetypal woman granted the privilege of addressing the US legislature ne'er liked nationalist speaking.

In an exclusive interrogation successful Kyiv, Ukraine's archetypal woman talks to the BBC's Lyse Doucet astir the interaction of warfare connected intelligence health, the caller roles Ukrainian women are taking on, and what triumph would look like.

"I was scared," she admits. "But I understood this mission… it was intolerable to miss this chance."

She emphasised, arsenic she ever does, the profound suffering of Ukrainian children, condemning what she called Russia's "hunger games". Then, she went overmuch further, asking the US Congress to nonstop weapons.

Had a archetypal lady, without authoritative powers, crossed a line? "It was not politics, it was what I had to say," she says. "I asked for weapons, not to attack, but to forestall our children from being killed successful their homes."

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Olena Zelenska - pictured with House talker Nancy Pelosi - ne'er liked nationalist speaking

The twelvemonth earlier these momentous months, Olena Zelenska had already established a Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen. Now it's a almighty planetary web which has helped evacuate Ukrainian children needing crab attraction and supply opportunities for education. It has arranged entree to Ukrainian books successful the countries that person welcomed millions of Ukrainian women and children forced to fly - without their husbands, who are barred from leaving successful a clip of war.

I inquire whether she present senses a definite "fatigue" successful different capitals, arsenic this situation pushes up vigor and nutrient prices beyond the borders. "I don't consciousness they are bushed of us. They each recognize that this is not conscionable a warfare successful Ukraine. It is simply a warfare of satellite views."

Her salient relation makes her the astir disposable look of a shattered nine wherever women are taking up caller roles everywhere, from warring connected beforehand lines to taking complaint arsenic azygous parents. Check immoderate UN papers astir Ukrainian nine pre-war and it uses connection similar "patriarchal", "traditional", with women's roles constricted by gender.

Olena Zelenska is adamant that Ukrainian nine was changing adjacent earlier warfare overwhelmed everything, and that this alteration is present accelerating. "Kitchen, children, religion - this is not for our nine immoderate more. A pistillate who has lived done this volition not instrumentality a measurement back."

Her recently formed Olena Zelenska Foundation deals with the toughest of challenges including intelligence wellness and home violence. As overmuch arsenic warfare tin toughen individuals, it tin besides teardrop them apart.

In a reflection of the hardening nationalist presumption arsenic allegations and grounds of Russian warfare crimes support emerging, arsenic full cities and towns are pummelled to the ground, she insists, "We cannot betray those who are present successful occupied territories. We cannot permission radical who are waiting for liberation."

She hastens to add: "This is not a governmental presumption of the president oregon the government. This is the presumption of Ukrainians."

Heart breaking photo. Missile destroyed this couple's home. It took distant their blessed carefree future. But determination is thing Russia could not instrumentality distant from them. Each other. I americium often asked astir wherever bash I find spot to combat daily. There is lone 1 answer: successful our people. pic.twitter.com/LY04J06V1p

— Олена Зеленська (@ZelenskaUA) November 18, 2022

The BBC is not liable for the contented of outer sites.View archetypal tweet connected Twitter

Carefully stepping done this governmental minefield, the archetypal woman is categorical. "We each recognize that without victory, determination volition beryllium nary peace. It would beryllium a mendacious bid and wouldn't past long."

And what does "victory" mean to her?

She answers without hesitation. "A instrumentality to a mean life… sometimes it seems we person enactment everything connected pause." That includes a antithetic benignant of beingness with her husband. "We're not conscionable spouses. I tin safely accidental we are champion friends," she says.

My archetypal question to the archetypal woman had been, "How are you?" She replied that, for each Ukrainians, their reply was, "We are holding on."

But, for however long? It's a question no-one tin answer.

Olena Zelenska is 1 of the BBC's 100 Women for 2022 - the others volition beryllium announced astatine the motorboat of the play connected Tuesday 6 December

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