Duchess the first British royal to visit Ukraine since Russia invasion

Duchess of Edinburgh in Ukraine

Source: Sky News UK

The Duchess of Edinburgh has become the first member of Britain’s royal family to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

Sophie, wife of the King’s youngest brother, Prince Edward, visited Ukraine on Monday, meeting President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zolenska.

The visit by the 59-year-old duchess was at the request of Britain’s Foreign Office.

It was intended to demonstrate solidarity with the women, men and children affected by the two-year war and also part of her work to champion survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

On her whirlwind trip, Sophie talked to survivors of sexual violence and torture, and at an evening reception at the residence of the British ambassador, she spoke about meeting survivors in other countries marred by conflict.

“Women and girls pay the highest price in terms of human costs,” she said.

“Rape is used to demean, to degrade and to destroy.

“I’ve been meeting with survivors of sexual violence and the conflict. I thank them for that honesty in telling me what happened to them. Their stories are sad … but I appreciate their time and their openness.”

She also delivered a personal message from the King.

Sophie’s visit came on the day a Russian missile attack on an educational institution in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa killed four people and injured 28.

Local officials said the injured included two children and a pregnant woman.

Pictures posted online showed an ornate building close to the seafront ablaze and smoke billowing skyward.

Video footage, which could not be immediately verified, showed people being treated on the street alongside pools of blood.

Odesa has been a frequent target of Russian missile and drone attacks, particularly port infrastructure.

Zelensky said on Monday that US weapons were starting to arrive in Ukraine in small amounts, but deliveries needed to speed up as advancing Russian invasion forces were trying to take advantage.

“Timely support for our army. Today I don’t see anything positive on this point yet. There are supplies, they have slightly begun. This process needs to be sped up,” he said.

The US approved a $US61 billion ($93 billion) aid package last week, ending six months of congressional deadlock and raising Ukrainian hopes that its critically low stocks of artillery shells will soon be replenished.

Britain’s royal family has been unusually outspoken in its support of Ukraine since the war began.

The King marked the second anniversary of the invasion in February by warning of the “indescribable aggression” and the “unprovoked attack” by Russia.

A year ago, William, the Prince of Wales made a surprise trip to British troops in Poland near the Ukrainian border.

“I’m here because I want to personally thank the Polish and British troops working in close and crucial partnership,” he said.

“I also want to pay tribute to the inspiring humanity of the Polish people. You have opened your hearts as much as your homes.”

He also visited a Warsaw office block converted into an accommodation centre housing about 300 Ukrainian women and children who have fled the war.

But Sophie is the first working royal to visit Ukraine itself. It adds to her list of trips to places not usually visited by the royals, including a visit to Baghdad last year.

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

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