Volodymyr Zelensky met Olena Zelenska at high school but did not date until they were at university
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky won his wife over with the help of a VHS copy of erotic thriller Basic Instinct, according to a new biography.
The couple met in high school in their hometown of Kryvyi Rih in southeast Ukraine, but they only started dating when they were at university.
Their courtship began when the comedian-turned-president approached his future wife Olena Zelenska, previously Kiyashko, while she was carrying a copy of the 1990s Hollywood hit.
In his book ‘Zelensky’, author and journalist Steven Derix writes that Mr Zelensky asked if he could borrow the Sharon Stone film. He pretended not to have seen it when he is said to have watched the racy movie ‘at least 15 times’ before.
But the request gave him a window to ask for her phone number, beginning a bond that has survived decades, and more recently the deadly invasion of their country by Russia.
The revelation comes as the couple are set to be cover stars in the October issue of Vogue, a move that has attracted some criticism from US conservatives.
In the Vogue interview, Ms Zelenska mused on what initially formed a connection between them, concluding that it was humour that built a “mutual chemistry”.
“My jokes don’t always go over well with her,” the president chimed. “She is a very good editor.”
Although Mr Zelensky was more focused on her “eyes and lips” when they first met, it didn’t take long for him to fall even harder for Olena when the two started talking.
“That’s when you cross the distance from like to love,” he said. “That’s what happened for me.”
The pair were married in 2003 and welcomed daughter Oleksandra a year later.
In 2013, the Ukrainian first lady gave birth to their second child, son Kyrylo.
Like many Ukrainian families, the president has been separated from his children since the war in Ukraine began in February.
Ms Zelenska has been able to see her children, but admitted the separation from their father has been difficult on Oleksandra and Kyrylo, too.
“I don’t even know how I would have survived these months if we had been apart,” she said of her children. “[Zelensky] is having a much harder time in this regard. He suffers. And then my kids do, too, because they can’t see each other.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far last five and a half months and left thousands dead, with no apparent end in sight.
In an interview with Piers Morgan for TalkTv, Ms Zelenska said she hopes the challenges of war will further “unite” the couple.
“I agree with the theory that marriage gets stronger with challenges,” she explained.
“We have become more interested in each other. I think in our case, it will be the same story… I wish that this challenge will make us more united.”
A version of Olena Zelenska’s interview will be published in Vogue’s October issue. ‘Zelensky’ by Steven Derix is available from Canbury Press.