From a fairly reserved wife to a brave first lady, Olena Zelenska plays an increasingly important role in the information war alongside her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky. While thousands of women have taken up arms in the streets of Kyiv or Mariupol, the 44-year-old is active on the digital battlefield to draw global attention to the horrors and victims of war.
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Screenshot, Instagram by Olena Zelenska
From fiction to a new reality
As is the case for her husband Volodymyr Zelensky, there was nothing destined for Olena Zelenska, born Kyashko, for political life. As an architecture student, she chose to follow the one she loved in her career as an actress, and became a screenwriter for the production company Kvartal 95, founded by Zelensky. The couple turns fiction into reality as Volodymyr Zelensky chooses to join the presidential race following the popular success of “The Servant of the People”, in which he played a professor who becomes Ukraine’s president. “I was not very happy when I realized what the plans were. I realized that our whole lives would change, ”the new first lady confided in an interview with Vogue Ukraine, a few months after the start of his new life. “Our new reality demands its own rules, and I try to conform to them,” she added, never suspecting how much that reality would eventually darken.
Picture of strength and courage
Almost three years after her husband’s entry into parliament, in the midst of the Russian invasion, Olena Zelenska no longer has any of the reserved first lady presenting her cases behind the scenes. “Today I do not want to panic and I do not want to cry. I want to be calm and confident,” she wrote on her social media on February 24. And since then she has not left the country. “The moment she left, it would have been acceptance of defeat. However, she shows that she is ready to risk her life, that she is resisting, ”analyzes Mireille Lalancette, professor of social communication at UQTR and specialist in political communication.
Effective in a new area of surgery
Open letter to the media, publications on the deaths of many children accompanied by live images, direct appeals to the international community and to NATO countries, Olena Zelenska uses the power of social networks at full speed. If her husband appears there as a near-warrior figure, permanently dressed in his military t-shirt, the first lady rather embodies the side-by-side victims of the war, an effective complementarity strategy. “She speaks to different audiences. She can reach out to people who are not interested in politics in normal times. […] All of this can have an impact on international aid, on fundraising, on the perception and mobilization of another public in the war, ”said Ms.me Lalancette, noting the effectiveness of Olena Zelenska’s publications, “calls for emotion”. At this new digital theater, we must admit that the Ukrainians have the lead, according to experts, especially thanks to the First Lady, described as a “secret weapon” by the British daily The Telegraph. “In the staging and the propagandistic perspectives, the symbols are well thought out and are never trivial,” adds Simon Thibault, professor of the political science department at the Université de Montréal. There is clearly a desire to raise the morale of the people by saying: “Look, we are here and we are not afraid”. »
A precedent for the first ladies?
While the role is usually played in the shadow of the president, the place of growth that Olena Zelenska occupied can set a precedent. “Usually, it’s a support role, support work that primarily carries a social cause, and it’s not all places where the role is well defined as in the United States,” notes Mireille Lalancette. “But in the current context, she just could not stay behind the scenes, and you can see that even though she said she was a bit on the sidelines, she embraces this role. This could be called for even greater significance given the results and the visibility that Zelenska has given the country, especially the innocent victims. “From the moment we see that there is interest in his speech, it is certain that we will use it in the fight for information,” said Simon Thibault, an expert in political communication.