Duchess of Edinburgh makes first royal visit to Ukraine since invasion

Sophie delivered a message from The King and supported survivors of sexual violence

No member of the Royal Family has visited Ukraine since the invasion of Russia – until now. The news that The Duchess of Edinburgh had carried out a one-day visit to Ukraine came via a press release from Buckingham Palace, making her the first member of the Royal Family to do so.

Sophie met President and First Lady of Ukraine during her one-day visit. (Royal Family)

The visit began with a meeting with the President and First Lady of Ukraine, where Sophie delivered a private message on behalf of her brother-in-law, The King.

The group discussed how to support survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and the women peace-builders who have a part to play in ensuring Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction is effective and long-lasting.

Sophie met the President and First Lady of Ukraine. (First Lady of Ukraine/Twitter)

After her meeting with the President and First Lady, the Duchess paid her respects to those who lost their lives in Bucha, two years on from its liberation from Russian forces.

Here, she also visited the ‘Road to Life’ – a bridge which became a key part of the Ukrainian resistance when it was blown up to stop Russian troops proceeding to Kyiv, and later became a vital route for people to flee to safety from the Russian occupation.

HRH visited Bucha to pay her respects to those who died in attacks. (Royal Family)

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At the United Nations’ Survivor Relief Center in the capital, Sophie learnt more about the centres which operate in 12 cities across Ukraine, providing vital psychosocial and legal support to those in need, especially conflict-related sexual violence survivors. 

The Duchess of Edinburgh spoke to the President and First Lady about how best to ensure sustained support for survivors, as well as how women peace-builders are playing a vital part in shaping Ukraine’s recovery.

Sophie heard about services on offer to conflict-related sexual violence survivors. (Royal Family)

Speaking virtually at the Restoration of the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Survivors’ Rights Conference in the country, Sophie expressed that there is a growing body of evidence from international organisations of the ‘atrocities’ that have been committed in Ukraine.

She added how ‘the Ukrainian authorities and International Criminal Court investigations are underway and the ICCs announcement of the first arrest warrants is an important step. But while this jurisprudence is developing in holding perpetrators to account in conflict affected countries, the world needs to do much more to recognise that conflict related sexual violence is a tactic of war and is NOT just an unfortunate casualty. It can and must be prevented.’

The survivors ‘here and around the world have spoken out so bravely about their experiences. They are the most powerful advocates who remind us all that we must not turn our backs on the horrors of this crime, we must never forget survivors.

‘Rather, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all survivors to secure justice and holistic redress, and ensure that this crime isn’t an accepted part of conflict. Their rights and their voices must be at the heart of all our efforts to consign conflict-related sexual violence to the history books.’

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Her Royal Highness also met Ukrainian women who have played important roles in the conflict and community recovery, where she learnt more about the work carried out by volunteers who help their communities cope with the aftermath of the attacks with mental health care activities for children.

After a jam-packed day, the Duchess attended a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence, where she noted it was a ‘happy day’ that she was able to visit Ukraine, but also commented it was a sad day as it meant she had been ‘learning more about the situation in all its realities’.

Sophie said that the ‘human cost of war is very real’ and across the countries she has travelled around the world, ‘either in conflict or post conflict, but unfortunately the scene is very similar’. 


‘It is true that women and girls pay the highest price in terms of human cost when it comes to the way that they are affected and the way that they can be used as weapons of war,’ the Duchess said. ‘Rape is used to demean, to degrade, and to destroy and we have to get better at trying to prevent that from happening. Where we cannot prevent it from happening, what we must do is put measures in place to support those who have fallen victim to such crimes.’

Adding how she has met Madam Zelenska on a number of occasions, Sophie noted how the First Lady has been ‘very much on the front foot in organising centres for people to go to when they have suffered harm, to find support and a way forward, and people who will care for them’. She praised the British Government in supporting the humanitarian effort in documenting the conflict sexual-related crimes that are taking place as it is ‘extremely important’ to do, even though it is in the early stages. 

Ukraine is just the latest of countries in Sophie’s foreign visits to support survivors of sexual violence in conflict. In 2023, she became the first Royal to visit Baghdad, where she addressed the issue of violence against women and attended events which supporting better access to education for girls.

The King meets the President of Ukraine. (Royal Family)

The British Royal Family has been vocal and supportive towards Ukraine with Royals carrying out a number of engagements over the last couple of years supporting Ukrainian refugees. After the Russian invasion, Prince Charles, as he was at the time, condemned the ‘brutal aggression’ of the eurasian state. He has also visited a number of Ukrainian refugee centres, including the Ukrainian Cathedral in London and meeting those helping refugees.

As King, Charles marked the second anniversary of the conflict by issuing a message,  stating how the ‘determination and strength of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire, as the unprovoked attack on their land, their lives and livelihoods enters a third, tragic, year’.

He added that ‘Ukrainians continue to show the heroism’ despite ‘the tremendous hardship and pain inflicted upon them’, something that he has seen during his many engagements and meetings he has had with ‘Ukrainians since the start of the war’. Charles held an Audience with the President of Ukraine at Buckingham Palace in February 2023, during the President’s first visit to the UK since the Russian invasion.

The Princes of Wales met the First Lady of Ukraine in September 2022. (Kensington Palace)

The Prince and Princess of Wales (then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) have also publicly showed their support for Ukrainian refugees. In March 2022, William and Catherine visited the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in London, to learn about the incredible efforts being made to support Ukrainians in the UK and across Europe. The couple even took some homemade treats to thank the volunteers.

The Princess of Wales also visited a Ukrainian Community Centre, in her hometown of Reading. Catherine took the opportunity to praise the ‘bravery and resilience’ of those who have been forced to leave Ukraine with their children, due to the conflict.

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