Akshata Murty welcomes Ukraine’s first lady to Downing Street

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska has been welcomed to Downing Street by Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty.

Embracing at the door to Number 10, the pair turned to the cameras, held hands and waved before entering the building.

After a private meeting, the first ladies entered the Pillared Room of Number 10 for a rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem, performed by the Royal Opera House Songs for Ukraine Chorus – a choir made up of Ukrainian singers affected by the war.

Olena Zelenska visit to UK
Akshata Murty and Olena Zelenska listen as singers from the Royal Opera Chorus perform the Ukraine national anthem inside No 10 Downing Street (Daniel Leal/PA)

Introduced by Ms Murty as a “special, special moment”, Mrs Zelenska stood with hand on heart as the pair listened to the chorus, most of whom were wearing traditional embroidered shirts called vyshyvanka.

Ukraine’s first lady had tears in her eyes as she later heard a member of the choir describe the kindness of the Royal Opera House.

The Ukrainian Chorus member, whose father was a singer before being called up to fight, described the choir as “a dream” and an “amazing opportunity”.

“Thank you so much to the Royal Opera House”, she said, adding: “They let us spread our wings. I am so grateful.”

On the camaraderie offered by the chorus, she said: “The choir, I found friends here. It was so important to find this family.”

Olena Zelenska visit to UK
Akshata Murty and Olena Zelenska listen to the Ukrainian singers (Daniel Leal/PA)

Mrs Murty and Mrs Zelenska last met outside No 10 in May last year, during a visit which saw Ukraine’s first lady attend the King’s coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Earlier on Thursday, Mrs Zelenska met the Queen at Clarence House.

She and Camilla were pictured in conversation as they sat in the Garden Room, with their meeting coming just days after the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

After the Downing Street reception, Ms Murty and Mrs Zelenska visited researchers at Imperial College London developing prosthetic technology for conflict zone children.

PhD students Caitlin Edgar, Sumudith Jayasuriya, and Claudia Ghidini demonstrated their research and prototypes to the pair.

The Ukrainian first lady was particularly interested in 3D printing technology that the students are using to create prototype prosthetic limbs and joints.

She asked the researchers how long it would take the printer to complete the prototype knee it was creating, to which Miss Edgar replied it would be ready in approximately 24 hours.

The students said it was striking to see Mrs Zelenska’s interest in their work, as someone who had been at the forefront of a war, and who may have seen children directly affected by it.

Mrs Zelenska began her visit to the UK on Wednesday by thanking Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron in person for his consistent support for Ukraine.

Olena Zelenska visit to UK
Akshata Murty and Olena Zelenska walk through No 10 Downing Street (Daniel Leal/PA)

She later took to social media to laud the championing by Lord Cameron and the Prime Minister of proposals to transfer Russian assets for the recovery of Ukraine.

She also announced that Britain had joined the international coalition for the return of children abducted by Russia.

“We hope the UK will continue to play a leading role in strengthening the international pro-Ukrainian coalition”, she said.

“The defence of Ukraine is the defence of the entire democratic world and its values.”