Ukrainians are tired but this is a matter of survival & we must continue fighting for our lives, says Olena Zelenska

Ukrainians are tired but this is a matter of survival & we must continue fighting for our lives, says Olena Zelenska

IT had been 20 months since I’d last seen Olena Zelenska, the First Lady Ukraine, in Kyiv with her husband President Volodymyr Zelensky just four months after Russia brutally invaded her country.

 But the timescale confused her.

Piers Morgan UncensoredOlena Zelenska with Piers Morgan for their exclusive interview – the only one she granted during her visit to the UK[/caption]

Watch Piers’ inspiring interview with Ukraine’s First Lady tomorrow at 5pm on Piers Morgan Uncensored

We really feel the support with the Royal Family and through them, also the support from the British nation, Ukraine’s First Lady told Piers

” I thought we met more recently?” she replied with a quizzical expression. 

“Not so long ago?  My feeling was that not so much time has passed, so from this feeling, I can understand that for us, time has stopped in some way.  In one way, things are happening very quickly, things are changing. But at the same time, we feel that time is static.”

Watch the full interview from 5pm tomorrow at the Piers Morgan Uncensored YouTube channel here

We met again at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel in Westminster, just a few hundred yards from Downing Street, and half a mile from Buckingham Palace.

She was at the end of a whirlwind 2-day trip to the UK in which she met Queen Camilla, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata, and Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

Ms Zelenska arrived for our exclusive interview for Piers Morgan Uncensored – the only one she granted during the visit – with her team including the bodyguards who protect her everywhere she goes.

She looked immaculately elegant in a black two-piece suit and cream blouse, clutching an iPhone, and greeting me in English with a warm smile: “Hi Piers, it’s good to see you again!”

“You must be exhausted?” I suggested.

“I’m a little tired,” she admitted. “But it’s OK. I don’t want to complain.”

Her sad eyes indicated a weariness at the sheer relentless hell of war and when we began the interview, which she preferred to conduct in Ukrainian to avoid any misinterpretation, I asked a simple question: “How are you?”

“It’s difficult,” she conceded.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

“You can’t get distracted from the war. 

“You can’t forget about the war, go on holiday for a week away from the war. 

“You’re constantly in this state and you cannot fully recharge. Ever. 

“But the objective is to have enough energy

“Enough to continue living, to carry on with life.”

Her spirits had been rallied during the latest of many trips to the UK, a place very dear to her heart due to the stalwart support Ukraine has received from our government, led first by Boris Johnson and now Sunak, from the British people who’ve selflessly taken 200,000 Ukrainians into their homes, and from our Royal Family who themselves are going through a turbulent time.

 Last week, on the second anniversary of the invasion, King Charles, who is suffering from cancer, issued a message saying: ‘The determination and strength of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire, as the unprovoked attack on their land, their lives and livelihoods enters a third, tragic, year.

“Despite the tremendous hardship and pain inflicted upon them, Ukrainians continue to show the heroism with which the world associates them so closely.  Theirs is true valour, in the face of indescribable aggression.”

“It was a great privilege to meet with Her Majesty,” said Ms Zelenska about her 30-minute chat at Clarence House, “and we passed our greetings to His Majesty as well and our best wishes for his health from the President of Ukraine and from the Ukrainian nation. We were moved by his address.

“We really feel the support with the Royal Family and through them, also the support from the British Nation. I have to say thank you to the British people, we feel your support.

“It’s sincere, it’s warm, and it’s not just a declaration. It’s a feeling of sincere and powerful support, and it really inspires us. Every time I come back from London, I feel inspired.  Just as if I had a holiday, as if I recharged my batteries, and so once again, thank you.”

It’s very good to know that we have very sincere and powerful friends here in the Royal Family

Olena Zelenska

Did she feel a ‘the-show-must-go-on’ affinity with Queen Camilla?

“It would be difficult to compare our activities, but there are expectations from the public and you feel that, and you have to rise to those expectations.  And in this sense, I guess, there’s an affinity.

“She told me how many letters she’s getting, addressed to His Majesty. And she tries to respond to most of them.

“And it was very good to hear that many Ukrainians wrote support towards His Majesty because of his health. It’s very good to know that we have very sincere and powerful friends here in the Royal Family.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales went to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in London soon after the war started – something Ms Zelenska greatly appreciated.

“Those were shocking days after the start of the large-scale invasion,” she said, “and every sign of support was very important to us, for us to understand that we were not alone in this tragedy.

“I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t seen signs like that. I think we would have been more lost and disoriented.

“People in the world talk a lot about Ukrainian resilience and the way we were coping in the first days.  But this resilience, I can say also depended on the support from the outside. So, we are very grateful for this, and we don’t forget this.”

GettyThe couple’s two children have struggled like all Ukrainian kids with years of pandemic and now war[/caption]

Queen Camilla put an arm around Ukraine’s First Lady as she welcomed her to Clarence HousePA

AFPQueen Camilla and Olena Zelenska were pictured in conversation in the Garden Room at Clarence House as they discussed the bravery of Ukrainians[/caption]

Did she have a chance to speak to her friend Catherine, the Princess of Wales who is recovering from abdominal surgery? 

“Unfortunately, no. I know that the Princess needs rest. She has a very active social calendar, and she needs a pause.  I hope she will have time for this and I’m not going to disturb her but I’m sure she knows we support her, and we wish her all the best as well.”

Ms Zelenska also paid tribute to our late, great Queen, saying: “I think that, in general, the standard for support of Ukraine was set by the leadership of Queen Elizabeth II. In every process of support, there needs to be a leader, a person who will set an example, and then, everyone who cares will follow this example.

“And if there had not been such a leader, I guess, the response from the public would not have been as powerful or would have been slower. So, we are grateful. We remember those times very warmly and for us, she is a very important historic figure, I think for the whole world as well.”

How grateful is she to the British people who’ve taken in Ukrainian families?


“I’m not just grateful, I am sincerely surprised at what a noble thing it is to do, to take a stranger into your home. Especially when I speak to our refugees and they tell me their stories of how they were welcomed, and how they have become friends with the British people who are looking after them.

“It’s very good to hear. It’s great. I think it’s a unique story. It’s very British, a very British thing that so many people are taking other people into their homes, into their families.

“Not just give them some help or provide some support. No. They’ve taken these people in, into their homes. I think that’s a unique, British thing.”

As for her own family, the Zelenskys’ two children, a 19-year-old daughter Okelsandra and 11-year-old son Kyrylo, have struggled like all Ukrainian kids with years of pandemic and now war. 

“It would not be right to complain because the situation for our family is not that different from other families in Ukraine,” she said. “But it’s painful for me that they’re losing these years of childhood… it’s difficult when you can’t plan anything for your children.

“You can’t dream together with them, to fill their lives with positive emotions. So, everything is on pause. No holidays, no rest.

“Everyone thinks about the war. My son talks constantly, and it’s very difficult to explain this to children. When your child asks you, ‘When will the war be over? Can you tell me?’ 

“There is no answer. Nobody has this answer. We all want for this horrible time in our lives to be over.”

 How often do the kids see Volodymyr?

My job is to keep smiling, to keep talking to people, to inspire people, regardless of whether or not I have the energy for that

Olena Zelenska

“About once a week for a few hours. Sometimes less frequently when he has foreign visits, or he cannot meet us for other reasons. Never more frequent.

“Of course, it’s a very difficult time for him.  He gets very tired.  But he has his own ways to recharge.  The children always help.  And he can have a silly time with them, to sing silly songs, laugh with them, and that also helps him to recharge.”

Does she ever get overwhelmed by the horror?

“It is a tragedy to live in the situation that we find ourselves and to see casualties every day. You cannot switch off your emotions. Recently, I was shaken by the story of a whole family killed by missile strike, a mother together with her two sons. 

“One of them was younger than one year old. They burned alive. These things don’t allow you to be happy or calm, ever, and there are some things that just finish you off, when you just start crying, and sobbing. But you need to cry.

“My job is to keep smiling, to keep talking to people, to inspire people, regardless of whether or not I have the energy for that. So, I try to keep my emotions inside.  And these things are a way for me to let go for at least a few minutes.”


 To lighten her mood, I read a tribute Volodymyr had paid to her in Vogue Magazine, when he said: “She is my love. She is my greatest friend.  Olena really is my best friend.  She’s also a patriot, and she deeply loves Ukraine, and she’s an excellent mother.”

Ms Zelenska’s face instantly lit up into a beaming grin.

“Fortunately, he tells me this very often.  But we are really friends and I think that’s the secret of our relationship. We understand each other and we support each other.

“It’s not just the words, well done, keep working, I believe in you. No, we can make each other laugh when it’s needed or we can tell each other, ‘Get a grip, go get your job done’. We feel each other.”

President Zelensky has come under increasing criticism in Ukraine where political opponents have accused him of corruption and becoming an autocrat, and this has led to falling approval ratings.

 The Mayor of Kyiv, former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko, sniped recently: “Zelensky is paying for mistakes he’s made.  At some point, we will no longer be any different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man.”

Ms Zelenska admitted: “I would very much like for the person who is responsible for everything to be somebody else, not my husband. He will take any criticism. For me, it’s more difficult emotionally because I take offence sometimes, I get upset. All of these things are hurtful when it’s being said about the person you love and respect, it’s never nice.”

APWhen Ms Zelenska was asked if she has a message for Russian dictator Putin her face tenses in visible disgust[/caption]

Zelenksy’s most vocal critic has been Putin who warned in his State of the Nation address in Moscow last week of nuclear retaliation if any other country tried to put boots on the ground to help Ukraine – as French president Emmanuel Macron suggested might be an option.

When I ask Ms Zelenska if she has a message for the Russian dictator, her face tenses in visible disgust.

Don’t tire. If you’re tired you’re not our allies

Olena Zelenska

“To be honest, I wouldn’t even want to say this name. When we were children in the Soviet Union, sometimes children would write letters and put them in a time capsule and send them to space. 

“And maybe somebody, sometime an alien will find this capsule and will read this message from these Soviet children from the 1970s.

“It’s the same thing. Why would I write this message to nowhere? Nobody will hear it. Nobody will pay any attention.  It’s just addressed to nowhere.”

But when I pressed her again, she said: “I just don’t know what this is for? I could never understand this. I do not understand any of the answers that he gives. I do not understand it, and I don’t know how a normal person can live with this?”

Should Putin face war crime charges?

“Behind every crime, there is a person who carried out the crime and a person who commissioned the crime and we don’t know every person that carried out the crime, but we definitely know who commissioned the crime, who ordered the crime. And there needs to be punishment for every crime.”

The British government has called for the transfer of Russian assets to pay for the recovery of Ukraine.


 Ms Zelenska agreed: “Russia has to pay financially, for the damage done to Ukraine. For the destruction of our infrastructure. And we understand that we may never see any financial compensation directly, so it would be fair for these financial assets that Russia has in our partner countries to be frozen and to be spent on the renewal of our infrastructure.

“Why should our partners help us to rebuild? Why shouldn’t it be the people who destroyed it?”

One of Ukraine’s biggest problems is global ‘war fatigue’ with the media’s attention drifting away to other conflicts like the Israel and Hamas war in Gaza.

“We need to understand that more wars can start in other places,” she said, “but it doesn’t mean that the war in Ukraine will stop. And this fatigue from the war, well, of course, it’s hurtful to hear for us.

“The Ukrainians have much more fatigue! Ukrainians are tired, but we have to hold on, because this is a matter of our survival.

“Don’t get tired. If you’re tired, you’re not our allies.  We cannot allow you to get tired. We cannot say, ‘Don’t look at us.  Don’t look at us suffering.’

“If you’re tired, you’re not our friends.  It’s sad but that’s life and we’re going to continue fighting for our lives, for the lives of our children, and we will not get tired doing this.”

And with that final passionate clarion call, First Lady Olena Zelenska bid me farewell and hurried away to start the long 20-hour plane-train-car journey back home to Kyiv, and the war that never ends.

Watch the full interview from 5pm tomorrow at the Piers Morgan Uncensored YouTube channel here

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