Duchess of Edinburgh: Sophie becomes first member of Royal Family to visit Ukraine since Russia's invasion

The Duchess of Edinburgh has become the first member of the Royal Family to visit Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

Sophie's trip was to "demonstrate solidarity with the women, men and children impacted by the war", said Buckingham Palace.

The palace also said it was a continuation of her work to champion survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

The duchess, 59, met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the first lady Olena Zelenska.

Sophie, who is a full-time working member of the Royal Family, also delivered a private message to them in a letter from the King.

The royal visited the site of a mass grave in Bucha where victims of the Russian occupation were buried.

The duchess laid flowers at a memorial that contains the names of the victims.

Early on in the war after Russian forces left the town, a number of dead bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs - seemingly shot at close range. President Vladimir Putin's troops are accused of war crimes there, including executions and rapes.

During her visit, the duchess also met survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and survivors of torture, said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

And she met children who have now been safely returned to Ukraine, after being forcibly separated from their families and taken by Russia.

She also met female volunteers who have helped their communities cope with the aftermath of attacks with mental healthcare activities for children.

In a speech during her visit, Sophie said: "It's true that women and girls pay the highest price in terms of human cost when it comes to the way that they are affected, the way that they can be used as weapons of war.

"Rape is used to demean, to degrade and to destroy, and we have to get better at trying to prevent that from happening."

She added: "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."

As part of her trip, Sophie visited the "Road to Life" in Irpin, also known as the Romanivska Bridge, that was blown up to stop Mr Putin's troops proceeding to Kyiv, and later became a key route for people fleeing to safety from the Russian occupation.

The royal also visited the Saint Sophia Cathedral with the first lady in the capital Kyiv.

The Ukraine trip was at the request of the FCDO.

In the two years since the war began on 24 February 2022, at least 10,582 civilians have been killed and 19,875 injured in conflict-related violence in the country, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

Those killed include 5,017 men, 3,093 women, 311 boys and 248 girls.

The King, when he was Prince of Wales, visited Ukraine in 1996. As monarch, he sent a message of support to the people of Ukraine on the second anniversary of the war.

He wrote: "Despite the tremendous hardship and pain inflicted upon them, Ukrainians continue to show the heroism with which the world associates them so closely. Theirs is true valour, in the face of indescribable aggression."

In March 2023, Prince William visited Poland to thank British and Polish troops involved in providing support to Ukraine, before meeting refugees who have fled the conflict with Russia to hear of their experiences.

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Sophie announced her commitment to champion the UK's Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) and the United Nations' Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS) on International Women's Day in 2019.

Over the years, the duchess has visited a number of countries to highlight the impact of historical and ongoing conflict.

They include Kosovo, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia.

And she has heard first-hand testimonies from survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.