These Ukrainians Support First Lady Olena Zelenska's Controversial Vogue Shoot – Here's Why

"Her job is to keep the world's attention on Ukraine."
Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska in Vogue.
Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska in Vogue.

Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska has been accused of “glamourising the war” on Twitter after starring in Vogue magazine’s cover shoot – but many Ukrainians don’t see it that way.

Zelenska and the president, her husband Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have been pushing Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to the top of the international news agenda for almost six months, in a bid to secure more help from the West.

Zelenskyy has spoken in the UK’s House of Commons, at the UN and at the EU. He has been featured on TIME magazine’s front cover over his leadership skills, and was even dubbed the “modern Churchill” for his communication.

Then, fashion magazine Vogue put the couple on its cover.

While Zelenska led the shoot – and in one photo was photoshopped into a scene with Ukrainian soldiers – she also posed with her husband in his army clothes for a couple of other images.

And something about the shoot rattled some on Twitter:

However, many Ukrainians on the same platform have been keen to defend Zelenska and remind these critics what war really looks like.

In a Twitter thread, Oleksandra Povoroznyk pointed out: “Most of the English-speaking people on the internet are lucky enough to have no clue what a war actually looks like.”

Through a follow-up exchange with HuffPost UK, she added that she was “genuinely surprised that so many non-Ukrainians saw the photoshoot as something controversial”, and not a “reflection of how strong Ukrainian women actually are”.

“Most Ukrainians I’ve spoke to see the photos and the interview as an important part of what Zelenska’s doing to draw more attention to our country,” Povoroznyk explained.

“In fact, a lot of Ukrainian women are super happy that Zelenska wasn’t portrayed as some kind of dainty and shy tradwife [traditional wife] hiding behind her husband.”

She added that “a lot of Eastern European women are portrayed as very stereotypically feminine”, even though there are still female volunteers in the Ukrainian army right now.

Povoroznyk, who is based in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv according to her Twitter profile, said, “nothing about the photoshoot is ‘glamourising’ the war”.

Instead, she said it was a “pretty accurate representation of what the war feels and looks like to many Ukrainians who are lucky enough to be in cities controlled by Ukraine”.

She claimed that while it was clear those in occupied cities would face a different reality, people in cities are trying to find “some kind [of] war-life balance”.

The Ukrainian explained that plenty of people still do their best to work, to go out with friends, get their nails done, put makeup on under the “constant threat of air strikes”.

She added: “And yet we keep going, because there’s literally nothing else we can do. And sure, a photoshoot for Vogue might not seem like work for the average lurker on Twitter, but it is part of Zelenska’s duties as First Lady.

“Her job is to keep the world’s attention on Ukraine, and that’s why she ’s giving interviews and speeches and yes, even having her photos taken by huge publications like Vogue.”

She also pointed out in a subsequent tweet that Britain’s Queen – back when she was Princess Elizabeth – also took part in photoshoots during World War 2, to raise awareness of the war effort.

She was not the only person to defend the images either, both in and out of Ukraine.