Olena Zelenska: Ukraine’s first lady says her country ‘cannot see the end of our suffering’

“It’s very hard to last five months,” Zelenska told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “We must gather our strength, we must conserve our energy.”

“We cannot see the end of our suffering,” she said.

Russian forces have knocked out most of the Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region and consolidated control of a territory belt in the south. Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, an industrial heartland dotted with factories and coalfields that has seen sporadic fighting since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists took control of two territories: the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Zelenska’s husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, told G7 leaders on Monday that he wants to end the war in Ukraine by early next year.
For now, fighting continues in the east, with missiles hitting targets across the country — including, on Monday, a shopping center where at least 1,000 people were inside when the air raid siren sounded. At least 18 people were killed and dozens are still missing.
Like her husband, Zelenska called the attack “terrorism.” Saying she was “shocked” by the incident, she explained that she was annoyed by how often the Russian military’s methods have left her stunned.

“We were often shocked. I don’t know what else the occupiers can shock us with,” Zelenska said.

An uprooted family

Zelenska said she and her children had not seen Zelensky for two months of the war. During the early days of the war, the president lived in his office and his family was forbidden to stay there to protect them.

The fighting has since moved further from Kiev, allowing the family to come together, but not for long.

Their experience, Zelenska said, is not unique. She estimates that half of all Ukrainian families have been separated by the war.

“Our relationship is on hold, as it is for all Ukrainians,” she said. “We, like any family, are waiting to be reunited, to be together again.”

Zelenska said she and others try to cope by “finding joy in simple things,” even if they are fleeting. She compared herself to a photo in the town of Borodianka, a town east of Kiev that was occupied by Russian troops in the early days of the war.

The image, Zelenska said, showed a series of bombed-out, flattened buildings, with only one thing left: a closet.

“I’m like that closet in Borodianka,” Zelenska said. “I’m trying to hold on, just like that closet.”

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