KIEV—Ukraine’s new first lady, Olena Zelenska, cracks jokes for a living. Until a week ago, she was a professional scriptwriter on her husband's comedy show. Now it's time to become, well, not only serious but "passionate about democracy,” she said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Millions of Ukrainian fans of Servant of the People, the television program that starred her husband Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a fictional president, came to see him as a true fighter against corruption.
“Volodymyr is never going to be anybody’s puppet,” Zelenska insisted. She said in 2015 she watched her husband fight against the oligarch’s effort at censorship. “We had a famous scandal when Kolomoisky canceled a broadcast of our political stage show on his TV channel 1+1 because of political jokes. Volodymyr called him on the phone and yelled so loudly that I thought we would never air our shows on TV again.”
“That was the turning point when we defended our independence,” said the first lady-elect.
More importantly, Zelenska is convinced the new team should keep away from the immense presidential administration building on Bankova Street known as a den of scheming office holders and operatives. Generations of bureaucrats and political advisers, including Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman who is now in U.S. federal prison, wove their intrigues in that building.
“We don’t want to ever step inside," she said. "The place is infected with its dark, negative past. We would be happy to make a contemporary museum out of that building, or pass it on to some university.”
The main question that millions have for the new president is how he is planning to develop his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the first lady has a strong opinion about that hard question. “It is impossible to start from scratch. I don’t think there will be a direct bilateral negotiations any time soon,” Zelenska said. “Volodymyr is not ready for a curtsy before the aggressor, but he is ready to negotiate with Russia in the presence of international leaders.”
Ukraine’s Funny New First Lady Is Dead Serious, Just Like Her Husband
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