Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska has watched her husband Volodymyr Zelensky lead their country through 11 months of war – and today she wished her childhood sweetheart a happy birthday in a touching post.
Zelenska, 44, in a post marking Zelensky’s 45th birthday, said though Zelensky is the ‘same boy I met when we were 17’, he ‘smiles much less now’ following Russia‘s barbaric invasion which has seen thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers killed.
The mother-of-two posted a picture of herself in Zelensky’s arms as the Ukrainian looks ahead, smiling broadly. Zelenska wrote: ‘I wish you more reasons to smile,’ adding that she knows that only a Ukraine victory will achieve that.
‘I am often asked about how you have changed this year,’ Zelenska said of her husband, who has gone from being a professional comedian to an internationally recognised wartime leader.
Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska sent a moving post to mark Volodymyr Zelensky’s 45th birthday
Pictured: Ukrainian flags are placed on the graves of soldiers at a Khrakiv cemetery on January 24, 2023 in Kharkiv, Ukraine
Pictured: A woman walks in front of a damaged house in Bakhmut on January 24
‘And I always answer: “I have not changed. He is the same. The same guy I met when we were 17,” Zelenska wrote. ‘But actually something has changed: you smile much less now.’
‘For example, like in this photo… And you know what it takes. We all know.
‘You have enough stubbornness. The main thing is that you have enough health. So please be healthy! I want to smile with you always. Give me this opportunity!’
Last year, Zelenska posted another heartfelt birthday message to accompany a black-and-white photo of her husband.
It read: ‘You know, I’m sure you’re looking at me in this picture. Because you always look at me like that.
‘I wish every woman had such looks. Only those who truly love look like that. I always feel your love. As long as you look like that, I’m not afraid of anything.
‘We still have things ahead of us. So take care of yourself. We have to realise everything we dream of together. Happy birthday, my love! I promise to look back at you. Just like that. Always!’
Pictured: President Volodymyr Zelensky with First Lady Olena Zelenska and their family
The Ukrainian President and the First Lady have been married for two decades
It came just 30 days before Russia invaded Ukraine. The couple, who have been married for 20 years, refused to leave Ukraine when Russian troops stomped across the border.
The pair have never been afraid to declare their love for one another in adoring social media posts.
In one posted in January 2020, Zelenska describes a ‘real man’ who gave her ‘butterflies’ and made her complete; a lover whose presence she felt when they were apart, and whose shared dreams destroyed all fear.
She wrote: ‘Safe. Cosy. Never calm, but always interesting. That’s how you feel when a real man is next to you.
‘The one you can count on in everything.’
For her birthday in February 2021, Zelensky wrote of Zelenska: ‘I love the way you think. Thank you for being there . . . For the truth, for the eyes, for the jokes. For who I wouldn’t have become without you . . . Thank you for everything.’
In June 2022, Zelenska said her relationship with her husband was ‘on pause’ amid the ongoing conflict with Russia and that the pair are ‘waiting to be reunited’ with their children.
She revealed she was unable to see her husband for long periods and said it was ‘not normal’ that their kids could only speak to their father on the phone.
The helicopter carrying Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky and other senior officials crashed into a nursery school building in a residential suburb in Kyiv, killing all nine on board and nine on the ground.
Pictured: President Zelensky and Olena Zelenska lay flowers at coffins draped in Ukraine’s flag
Monastyrsky, who oversaw the country’s police and emergency services, is the most senior official killed since Russia invaded Ukraine.
At the funeral service in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Zelensky and his wife laid flowers on seven coffins draped in flag of Ukraine and spoke to the families.
Zelensky on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz for Berlin’s decision to deliver powerful Leopard tanks.
The decision has been hailed by Kyiv and its allies but slammed by Moscow as ‘extremely dangerous’.
‘German main battle tanks, further broadening of defence support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,’ Zelensky wrote on Twitter, adding that he was ‘sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends’.
Kyiv has been calling for months for Western main battle tanks that would give its forces greater firepower, protection and mobility to break through Russian front lines and potentially reclaim occupied territory in the east and south.
Germany will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its Bundeswehr stocks, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.
It is also granting approval for other European countries to send tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, with the aim of quickly assembling ‘two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine,’ he said.
‘This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our abilities,’ Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
Zelensky on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz (pictured) for Berlin’s decision to deliver powerful Leopard tanks
Polish soldiers are pictured in German-made Leopard 2 tanks which Olaf Scholz has been blocking from being delivered to Ukraine
Several other European countries, including Finland and Poland, have said they are ready to provide their stocks, but had required Berlin’s approval to transfer the German-made armaments to a third party.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had vocally sought German approval to send on the tanks, thanked Berlin for the decision and called it ‘a big step towards stopping Russia’.
‘Together we are stronger,’ he said, as Britain and France also welcomed the announcement.
But Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechaev, warned that the ‘extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation, and contradicts statements by German politicians about the unwillingness of the German Federation to get involved in it’.
The Wall Street Journal has meanwhile reported that Washington was leaning toward sending a significant number of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
The Kremlin warned Wednesday that if Western countries supply Ukraine with heavy tanks they will be destroyed on the battlefield.
‘These tanks burn like all the rest. They are just very expensive,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have conducted an organised retreat from a town in the eastern region of the Donbas, an official said.
It marks a rare but modest battlefield triumph for the Kremlin after a series of setbacks in its invasion.
The Ukrainian army pulled back from the salt-mining town of Soledar to ‘preserve the lives of the personnel’, Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, said.
Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen are seen near the frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Soledar in Donetsk region, Ukraine on January 23, 2023
Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen near Soledar on January 23, 2023. Ukrainian forces have conducted an organised retreat from a town in the eastern region of the Donbas, an official said
The soldiers retreated to previously prepared defensive positions, he said.
Moscow has portrayed the battle for Soledar, which lies near the city of Bakhmut, as key to capturing the entire Donbas.
The accomplishment takes the Russian forces a step closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say capturing Soledar is more symbolic than strategic.
Ukraine’s military, which has held out in Soledar against a months-long onslaught of superior Russian forces, said its fierce defence of the eastern stronghold helped tie up Russian forces.
Russia claimed almost two weeks ago it had taken Soledar but Ukraine denied it.
Many of Russia’s troops around Soledar belong to the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group and the fighting reportedly has been bloody.
Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has prioritised taking full control of the Donbas – a region made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where it has backed a separatist insurgency since 2014.
Russia has seized most of Luhansk but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukraine’s control.
Taking control of the town could allow Russian forces to cut supply lines to Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, though the strength of Ukraine’s new defensive positions is unknown.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said earlier this month the fall of Soledar would not mark ‘an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut’.
The institute said Russian information operations have ‘over-exaggerated the importance of Soledar’, which is a small settlement.
It also said the long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.
Perhaps more worrying for Moscow, western military help for Ukraine is now being stepped up with the delivery of tanks.
Elsewhere, Russian forces have continued to pummel Ukrainian areas, especially in the south and east.
Russian strikes hurt 10 civilians in the eastern Donetsk province on Tuesday, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the provincial governor, said.
Five were wounded when Russian shells hit apartment blocks, he said.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Wednesday that over the previous 24 hours Russian forces launched four missile strikes, 26 airstrikes and more than 100 attacks from rocket salvo systems.
Russian forces are concentrating their efforts on establishing control over Donetsk province, conducting offensive operations around the embattled cities of Bakhmut, Lyman and Avdiivka, and the village of Novopavlivka, according to spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun.
In addition to Donetsk, the Russian attacks hit settlements in the country’s north-eastern Kharkiv and Sumy, northern Chernihiv, easternmost Luhansk, south-eastern Zaporizhzhia, and southern Kherson provinces.