Zelensky told me what terrifies them most about Putin – and vowed war will not break them as they fight for Ukraine


“THAT’S the most I’ve laughed in five months!” chuckled war-ravaged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The cause of his amusement was my entreaty that he finally publicly apologise to his wife, the First Lady Olena Zelenska, for not telling her he was going to run for President.

Instead, incredibly, she found out by watching the then-comedian announce it live on a New Year’s Eve variety show he was hosting back in 2018.

“He forgot,” she explained, diplomatically, about what has turned out to be a spectacularly important life-changing decision of historic proportions.

Watch Piers Morgan’s exclusive interview with the Zelenskys on TalkTV – on Wednesday at 8pm.

“You FORGOT TO TELL YOUR WIFE YOU WERE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!?” I exclaimed incredulously, as Zelensky smirked sheepishly. “What were you thinking?”

“This was a very difficult decision for our family. It knew it would hit them, that it would be a tough call, it’s not a joke. These are serious matters. My family wasn’t prepared to let me go…”

“He understood that probably I wouldn’t have been fond of this idea,” Olena interrupted, “and that it would take very difficult negotiations with me.

“That is why probably each day he was thinking that, THIS is the day, that THIS is the moment, I should tell her. But he kept postponing it. And then it was on TV, I saw his New Year’s address and found out he was actually running!”

It was time for him to atone for his marital failing.

“Mr President,” I said, “this is your opportunity to apologise to your wife…”

So, he did.

“OK. I’m sorry!” he said directly to Olena, and then they both laughed loudly.

It was a very rare moment of levity for a couple who’ve been widely praised for sustaining the morale of Ukraine’s devastated people in their darkest hour.

They were sitting opposite me in a grand old government building, for their first ever international television interview together.

And they couldn’t hide their excitement at seeing each other after a sustained period when a few snatched moments are all they’ve had, holding hands like the teenage high-school sweethearts they were when they first met 26 years ago.

“Is this like a TV date?” I joked to Olena.

“Yes!” she replied. “Thank you for this TV date! Volodymyr lives at his workplace, I am with the children, but we are in another place. But it is the same story for all Ukrainians – too many are separated, waiting for victory to get back to normal life – to be reunited again and just to lead normal lives like ordinary people live.”

Zelensky agreed: “This interview is one of the good opportunities for us to see each other. This is very important for us. As you know, we are all human beings, and we have to be strong.

“Sometimes we want to have someone close to be next to us and that is what you miss in these moments. Yes, I miss my children, I miss my wife. It is impossible to get used to it. Everything else you can get used to.”

A crisis of this magnitude, with all the myriad strains it brings, could break any relationship, but not the Zelenskys.

“I agree with the theory that marriage gets stronger with challenges.” said Olena.  “I think in our case it will be the same. We have become more interested in each other. That is why I hope that this challenge can make us more united.”

Then she turned to her husband and asked: “What do you think about it?”

“My answer wouldn’t be different,” Zelensky replied.

Olena shook her head, and said: “You should have your own opinion about it!”

He smiled, and said: “When you are next to me, your opinion has priority. What I would say is I don’t have any other experience. I’ve got only one wife and I am happy. I have one wife, one love and one family. I never got any feeling there was anything wrong with us or in our relationship. Or maybe do you feel unhappy with me sometimes?”

“Not with you,” she replied, “but without you I am very unhappy.”

“That is why I can’t notice any big changes,” he said. “The war is making our relationship stronger, that’s for sure.”

“We are managing?” suggested Olena.

“Yes, but managing is not the right word. We are in love with each other. OK?”

“OK,” she smiled. 

Olena is a radiantly beautiful woman, which prompted me to ask her husband if he felt he was “punching above your weight?”

Zelensky looked bemused, until the meaning of the British phrase was clarified to him by an aide, and he replied: “I think I’m very lucky with my wife and family, and my children.”

He then confirmed a story I’d heard that he and two of his friends all proposed marriage to their girlfriends, including Olena, at the same time, and got married on three consecutive weekends.

“True!” he smiled.

Olena laughed as she recalled the unusual mass wedding agreement. “I remember three of you saying, ‘let’s do it’, and everything will be okay – and we agreed.”

I’d come to Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv five days ago at the invitation of Olena to co-host her Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen which featured moving speeches of solidarity by many of the world’s most powerful and famous people from America’s First Lady Jill Biden to David Beckham and Richard Gere.

It’s not a trip many people are making right now.

In fact, millions of terrified Ukrainians have been fleeing their country to escape Vladimir Putin’s missiles and murderous thugs since the illegal Russian invasion five months ago.

Nor is it an easy trip.

My journey involved a three-hour flight from London to a town in Poland, then a 90-minute drive to a railway station near the Polish border, where I caught the special overnight presidential train that all world leaders such as Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have been forced to use since civilian air travel over the country was banned, arriving in Kyiv 11 hours later.

It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.

I felt quite relaxed on the train until a stewardess suddenly appeared to urgently press down my cabin window black-out blinds. “We don’t want the Russians to see any lights,” she said, matter-of-factly.

She had good reason to be fearful – numerous trains have been attacked in this war and dozens of her rail network colleagues have been killed.

The centre of Kyiv felt relatively normal with shops and cafes open, and locals milling around the streets, albeit amid a considerable military presence, but then I heard the air raid sirens that go off several times a day and it was an unnerving reality check that Ukraine remains a warzone and nobody is safe from Russia’s long-range cruise missiles. 

Before I interviewed Zelensky, I spent some time with other people with deep connections to this war including the Klitschko brothers, both former world heavyweight boxing champions, now fighting for their country’s very existence, Wladimir on the front line, and Vitali as Mayor of Kyiv.

The stories were horrifying, and heart-breaking, and represent just a tiny fraction of the misery so many Ukrainians have been enduring.

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