Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday as she began a series of high-profile appearances in Washington that will include a session with U.S. counterpart Jill Biden.
Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags flew alongside American ones on Pennsylvania Avenue as Zelenska headed for her first announced event in the United States, the meeting with Blinken.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the secretary of state assured Zelenska of the United States’ commitment to Ukraine. Blinken also commended her for her work with civilians dealing with trauma and other damage from the war.
The State Department announced and then canceled a planned brief appearance by Blinken and Zelenska before photographers there. The low-key arrival reflects that Zelenska is not traveling as an official representative of the government of her husband, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Zelenska studied architecture in college but worked as a comedy scriptwriter, including for Zelenskyy, who was a comedian with a popular television show before winning the presidency in 2019.
During the war, Zelenskyy has won admiration from Ukrainians and Ukraine’s supporters abroad by staying put in the capital, Kyiv, after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his attack on Ukraine in February.
Zelenska largely disappeared with the couple’s two children during the first months after the invasion. In an interview with Time magazine this month, she described the war forcing her to shelter away from Zelenskyy for security reasons from the first hours of Russia’s bombing. Their children, like other Ukrainians, largely have seen Zelenskyy since then in nightly video addresses he makes to the country.
Zelenska emerged from seclusion May 8 to greet Jill Biden, who was making an unannounced visit to western Ukraine.
The two first ladies met then at a school, where they hugged, talked and joined schoolchildren making tissue-paper bears as gifts for Mother’s Day.
Zelenska has taken a higher public profile since that meeting. That includes giving more newspaper interviews about Ukraine’s struggles and about her projects during the conflict. She has promoted counseling for the millions of Ukrainians now dealing with grief and trauma.
She meets with Jill Biden on Tuesday and will speak in the congressional auditorium at the Capitol to lawmakers on Wednesday. Her husband received standing ovations from congressional members in a video address to lawmakers in the same auditorium earlier in the war.
Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to questions Monday about the schedule of her visit.