Ukraine first lady Olena Zelenska's 'Vogue' photo shoot draws mixed response

Some have called the photos, also featuring husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as not the right 'vibe' for a wartime president

Olena Zelenska on a special digital cover of 'Vogue', shot by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz. Photo: Instagram / voguemagazine
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The first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, has received praise and criticism for appearing in a photo shoot for Vogue magazine along with her husband, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

On Tuesday, Vogue shared a special digital cover featuring Zelenska, as well as a series of pictures shot by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz.

"As the war in Ukraine enters a critical new phase, the country’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, has become a key player — a front line diplomat and the face of her nation’s emotional toll," the magazine said.

Zelenska also shared the cover on her Instagram page, calling it "a great honour and dream of many successful and prominent people of the world".

"I would like you to see every Ukrainian woman here, in my place. Who fights, volunteers, settles in a refugee camp, does her job under the sound of a siren, holds on under the occupation. She has the right and deserves to be on the covers of the whole world. Each of you, fellow Ukrainian women, is now the face and cover of our country," she posted.

In an accompanying interview, the first lady and the president spoke about life in wartime, their marriage and shared history, and their dreams for Ukraine’s future.

“These have been the most horrible months of my life, and the lives of every Ukrainian,” Zelenska says in the interview, speaking through a translator. “Frankly I don’t think anyone is aware of how we have managed emotionally.

"We’re looking forward to victory. We have no doubt we will prevail. And this is what keeps us going."

While the cover has been widely praised for its powerful composition, featuring Zelenska at the presidential palace, seated amid sandbags, it is the other photos, particularly ones featuring husband Zelenskyy, that have been criticised.

"No shade but I find the first lady Olena Zelenska and President Zelenskyy doing a shoot with Vogue odd. I know it’s about how she is coping and being strong. This pic just looks so posey and maybe not the right vibe," one Twitter user posted, along with a photo showing the Ukrainian first lady and president in an embrace.

"Zelenskyy has done an extraordinary job in beating the Russians in information warfare. Vogue wartime photo shoot: bad idea," author Ian Bremmer tweeted.

Another Twitter user questioned the president's priorities: "I'm sure the dudes in the trenches appreciate the effort the Zelenskyys are putting into stopping the war. A Vogue cover will help, for sure," they posted.

Now entering its sixth month, there seems to be no end in sight to Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine. Last week, The Washington Post quoted data which said the conflict is on track to be among modern history’s bloodiest.

“We were living happy lives and we never thought this would happen," Zelenska says in the Vogue interview. "But we have hope.”

President Zelenskyy also shared in the interview how proud he was of his wife, whom he married in 2003.

“She has a strong personality to start with. And probably she is stronger than she thought she was. And this war — well, any war is probably bound to bring out qualities you never expected to have," he says.

“Of course, she is my love. But she is my greatest friend. She is also a patriot and she deeply loves Ukraine."

Updated: July 28, 2022, 4:48 PM