Winning hearts and minds

The Zelenskyys' Vogue cover story is a brilliant war tactic

The Zelenskyys' Vogue cover story is a brilliant war tactic
Image: Vogue
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskky and his wife Olena Zelenska graced the pages of Vogue magazine in a cover story that is drawing admiration from some quarters and criticism from others.

Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the intimate shoot shows the first couple in the Ukrainian presidential compound, in an underground shelter, and among soldiers; it is accompanied by a lengthy interview with the first lady.

The feedback was mixed—partially because society has a tendency to assume that fashion is reserved for the frivolous, and partially because Vogue has bungled interviews with wives of heads of states in the past. Others complained that the pictures seemed to glamorize war.

But all along, Ukraine’s first couple has shown they understand how critical public perception is, as well as fashion’s role in it.

Especially in light of remarks from CIA director William Burns last week that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is counting on fading interest in the war to gain the upper hand, the shoot stands out as a success. The Zelenskyys are smart to use Vogue as a means of keeping attention on the grim situation in their country, helping to ensure the future flow of foreign weapons and aid.

The realities of the Ukraine war vs. people’s expectations

Val Voschchevska, a Ukrainian digital creator and activist, shot back at critics expecting a Hollywood version of the war.

“So you’d rather we be miserably sitting in bomb shelters and crying-than trying to be heard via any means available to use like @ZelenskaUA in @voguemagazine. Soz, if the way a war looks doesn’t meet your expectations.”

Voshchevska also retweeted posts from other accounts pointing out there was uproar against the magazine’s images but not at videos emerging that appear to show Russian soldiers committing crimes against humanity.

For years, psychologists have advocated that grief and suffering is highly individual and can be expressed in many forms. While there is carnage on the frontlines and missile strikes are a real, frequent threat, five months into the war, people must try to carry on with some semblance of normal life.

Other regions may be less secure but Kyiv recently has seen a rebound in its population. According to Kyiv mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, a mass exodus at the start of the war dropped the Ukrainian capital’s population from 3.5 million to around 1 million people. But mobile phone data indicated that by early May, this figure had risen to 2.2 million. There’s even a return to nightlife as people seek connection, relief, and normalcy.

During her trip to the US this month, first lady Zelenska directly linked staying in the global media spotlight to saving lives.

“It’s important for us that the support does not vanish,” she said in an interview with NBC, “that you do not lose the drive, that support stays strong, and the speed with which you support us also increases because every day brings new victims.”