Sophie becomes first royal in Ukraine with surprise visit

Sophie met with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky
Sophie met with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a symbolic show of support [Ukrainian President's Office ]

The Duchess of Edinburgh has become the first member of the Royal Family to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

On Monday she went on a one-day visit, on behalf of the Foreign Office, to "demonstrate solidarity with the women, men and children impacted by the war".

The duchess paid her respects to those who had lost their lives in the town of Bucha during the Russian occupation.

There was also a meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Royal Family has been unusually outspoken in its support of Ukraine, with King Charles marking the second anniversary of the invasion in February by warning of the "indescribable aggression" and the "unprovoked attack" by Russia.

On his state visits to France and Germany the King had spoken of the importance of supporting Ukraine - and the sympathies of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, had been suggested when she appeared beside a big bowl of flowers in Ukrainian national colours.

But up to now none of the royals had come to Ukraine during the war, until this surprise visit by Sophie, the Duchess of Edinburgh, who is married to Prince Edward, the King's youngest brother.

During her trip Sophie talked to survivors of sexual violence and torture, and at an evening reception at the residence of the UK ambassador to Ukraine, Martin Harris, spoke about her experience meeting survivors in other countries marred by conflict.

"Women and girls pay the highest price in terms of human costs," she said, adding: "Rape is used to demean, to degrade and to destroy."

Sophie also heard from children who had been returned to Ukraine after being forcibly separated from their families and visited a bridge which was blown up to stop Russian soldiers advancing on Kyiv.

Sophie sits on an armchair, speaking to a woman with red hair whose face cannot be seen by the camera
Sophie met with women affected by the war in Ukraine [Reuters]

In her meeting with President Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska, the duchess gave them a private message from King Charles and discussed support for survivors of sexual violence in conflicts.

The duchess has been a supporter of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative - and Queen Camilla recently spoke of the importance of preventing the sexual violence that all too often takes place in war zones.

This unexpected visit is a symbolic message of royal support for Ukraine. Soon after the start of the war in 2022, Charles, then Prince of Wales, visited Ukrainian refugees who had come across the border into Romania.

Prince William also visited British troops in Poland near to the Ukrainian border.

The royals also appeared to have become embroiled in the disinformation war - with the British Embassy in Russia having to say that claims that the King had died were fake news.

Security researchers also warned that social media conspiracy theories about the Princess of Wales were being amplified by Russian disinformation networks.

But Sophie has gone a step further with her visit into Ukraine. It adds to her list of trips to places not usually visited by the royals.

Last year she became the first royal to visit Baghdad in Iraq, again addressing the issue of violence against women and attending events supporting better access to education for girls.

She has also visited Kosovo, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.