Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska have sparked a strong reaction online, after posing for a Vogue photoshoot in the midst of their nation’s ongoing fight against invading Russian troops.
With more than 150 days having passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s fighters entered neighboring Ukraine, the couple posed for the U.S. edition of the fashion bible in a series of shots taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.
While glamorous shots show the two hugging one another while seated at a table, another shows the first lady sitting on the grand staircase of a building filled with supplies, while her vest-clad husband stands apparent guard behind her.
A further image shows Zelenska in a full-length gown under a navy coat as she stands before the bombed out remains of Antonov An-225 Mriya—once the world’s heaviest aircraft—all while flanked by a pair of armed soldiers.
The war-themed photo was shared on Vogue‘s verified Instagram account on Tuesday, alongside a caption that read: “In Ukraine, tens of thousands of women have been on the front lines, including in combat, and First Lady Olena Zelenska’s role has increasingly turned toward frontline diplomacy.
“She recently traveled to Washington, albeit on an unofficial, unannounced visit, and met with President Biden, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. There, she also addressed Congress, telling a bipartisan group of lawmakers that she was speaking as a mother and daughter, not just a first lady.
“‘I’m asking for something I would never want to ask for: I am asking for weapons—weapons that would not be used to wage a war on somebody else’s land but to protect one’s home and the right to wake up alive in that home,’ she said that day.
“For Vogue‘s special digital cover story, Zelenska and her husband Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke about life in wartime, their marriage and shared history, and the dreams for Ukraine’s future.”
Soon after the images were uploaded by the team at Vogue, a debate was sparked across social media over whether such an outing was appropriate at a time of war.
“I don’t think it’s the right move when there is an actual war,” commented one detractor. “Fancy lunch at the White House, Annie Leibovitz shoot…”
“This does not seem like a good idea for them to pose in a magazine when people are dying daily in their country,” stated another. “It just seems glib!”
“Romanticizing war isn’t it, Vogue,” said another reader in a comment that received hundreds of likes on the image-sharing platform.
The discussion also made its way to Twitter, where conservative political activist Scott Presler commented: “Why did we send $54 billion to Ukraine, so Zelensky & his wife could pose for Vogue? You’re at war & you’ve got time for photo shoots?”
Why did we send $54 billion to Ukraine, so Zelensky & his wife could pose for Vogue?
You’re at war & you’ve got time for photo shoots? pic.twitter.com/XV5rz0meME
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) July 27, 2022
Avi Yemini, chief Australian correspondent of far-right political website Rebel News, expressed similar sentiment, tweeting: “I respected Zelensky at the beginning of the war when we were flooded with photos of the Ukrainian President on the frontline in tactical gear.
“Turned out the photos were faked. An act like the man himself. Now posing for Vogue. All to grift billions from western taxpayers.”
I respected Zelensky at the beginning of the war when we were flooded with photos of the Ukrainian President on the frontline in tactical gear.
Turned out the photos were faked.
An act like the man himself.
Now posing for Vogue.
All to grift billions from western taxpayers. pic.twitter.com/nSsiok0Iyw
— Avi Yemini (@OzraeliAvi) July 26, 2022
Rep. Mayra Flores (R-TX) was no less scathing in her assessment, writing on the micro-blogging platform: “Biden: Let’s continue to send billions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine, they need it!
“Reality: The Zelensky family graces us with a photo shoot to be on the cover of Vogue magazine.”
Biden: Let’s continue to send billions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine, they need it!
Reality: The Zelensky family graces us with a photo shoot to be on the cover of Vogue magazine pic.twitter.com/NRdTWZOS3j
— Mayra Flores (@MayraFlores2022) July 27, 2022
Amid the flood of comments questioning whether the shoot was in poor taste, a number of Instagram users defended the couple’s decision, insisting that it would help to shine a light on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“You see, it’s almost like that’s the whole f****** point: to get people talking about the horrific reality of Ukrainians right now,” one said. “Or are we supposed to be crying and grieving every second of our lives just to appeal to your understanding of the situation? Our people continue living and can do whatever they want and won’t stop just because it’s not something that you’re used to see on the news.”
Echoing those thoughts, another wrote: “What is wrong in posing for pictures to spread awareness? War in Ukraine opened my eyes on other wars in the world.
“I read comments under pictures like this picture, and I’ve seen many Georgians and Syrians confirmed that Russia did exactly the same things in their countries. Robbing, raping, torturing people.
“It makes me so upset that people from those countries were not heard. I hope the world can imagine now what Russians did in those countries as well. I’m glad that not only Ukrainian soldiers fight this war, but all Ukrainians by spreading information as much as possible.
“For some people it looks ridiculous, but for Ukrainians is the only way to show a current reality. War is a little bit different than what you imagine. The major fights are on the front line. Rest of Ukraine live new ‘normal’ life except now they know that they might be killed any time by a random missile, but they have to continue living because someone has to bring food to the table and raise kids.”
Newsweek has contacted a representative of Vogue for comment.
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