They commended the global response to the Ukraine crisis as “inspiring” as an appeal helping those impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine reached more than £300 million.
They spoke to aid workers out on the ground in conflict zones and those recently returned from Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
The royal couple were told about the human impact of the war and how the appeal’s funds are helping support those most in need.
DEC charities and local partners are on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries where millions of refugees have fled.
They are helping to provide water, shelter and medical aid.
“We need less disasters in the world,” said William during the visit.
He told DEC staff who have been working round the clock for the past eight weeks: “Just hearing about the amount that has been raised in such a short period of time is extraordinary.”
Both the duke and duchess wore Ukraine flag badges on their lapels. Kate looked stylish in cropped black trousers, a cream blazer and black heels and William dressed in a navy suit.
The Cambridges were welcomed to the DEC’s new offices Thursday morning by DEC Chief Executive Saleh Saeed and director of communications Hannah Richards who first gave them a private briefing on how the appeal has been progressing.
The DEC is comprised of 15 leading UK charities including the British Red Cross, Action Against Hunger, Christian Aid, the International Rescue Committee UK and Save the Children UK.
The couple then joined a video call with three aid workers.
They included emergency response lead for Hungarian Interchurch Aid Giuliano Stochino Weiss, one of Christian Aid’s partners Rachael Cummings, who is in Lviv, and International Federation Red Cross special representative to Ukraine Alexander Matheou who is currently in Vinnitsya.
William asked the group: “I just want to find out a little bit about what the scene is like, what the situation is like out there… What you’re seeing at the moment and where things are at on the ground?”
Giuliano told them: “I crossed into Ukraine on the third day of the conflict, it’s been really heartbreaking to see mothers and fathers and children, fathers saying goodbye to their children because they had to leave the country.
“Lviv used to be a safe city, that changed on Monday with the huge rocket attacks 4km away from the office, so it’s an ever-changing situation and I would say it’s getting worse.”
Rachael told them how she had been there for around three weeks, travelling between Lviv and Kyiv and travelling to Odessa too.
She said: “There is huge population displacement and Save the Children are deeply concerned about the children who are being affected by this crisis. The numbers are staggering, around three and a half million children are now refugees. It’s challenging for us to be able to support and scale up to that.
“What the DEC funds have meant is that we’ve been able to significantly scale up our existing work in the country. We’re building our response to providing mobile health units, trauma kits, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, nutrition support and safe drinking water to respond to this crisis.
“We’re particularly concerned about the devastating effect on children and these funds mean that we can ensure that children receive high quality care and support now, and in the months ahead.”
William asked them: “We’ve been watching and hearing a lot about Mariupol and what’s been happening, which sounds like a truly horrendous situation. Do any of you have any idea of just how bad it is and have any of you been able to get any aid into there?”
Rachael replied: “I met the deputy mayor of Mariupol who just told us some horrendous stories of people who have left and people who haven’t been able to leave. It’s a very challenging and very much a priority in the news, but Mariupol plus is the challenge, because there are other areas within Ukraine which are maybe not as acutely affected but where people are in need.”
Alexander added: “The people who have stayed, the civilians, the people who could not leave are too old or have disabilities or who are too poor and could not contemplate leaving or moving and renting an apartment elsewhere.
“Those are the people living underground in eastern Ukraine who are completely dependent on humanitarian aid which is extremely difficult to deliver in the current circumstances. Mariupol is the most talked about but it’s not just Mariupol.”
Kate then asked them: “With all the physical support and everyone’s immediate needs, are you also having to support everyone on the psychological impact of the crisis and the trauma that families and children are going through?”
Rachael told her: “We’re deeply concerned about the mental and physical health long-term of this generation of children who will need continual support and we’re working with some local partners who have child psychologists to work with children during this acute phase.”
Rachael told them how some of their psychologists are using dog and pet therapy to help affected children out in Ukraine.
William also asked: “What inspiring things are you seeing in terms of the local communities helping each other? I imagine you’re hearing some amazing stories of local communities helping each other out and going that extra mile for each other.”
Giuliano told them: “We received an office space of 700 square metres for free. We were given IT experts for free, everybody is offering to help.”
After the video call, William and Kate met some more DEC staff including the marketing and fundraising teams.
He asked the latter with a laugh: “Is the £300 million because you guys are so good or because the British public are so generous?”
One of the team replied: “A bit of both!”
Kate asked them: “Was it a surprise, the public response?”
Another member of the fundraising team told her: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Looking around at the immaculate new office, William joked: “You guys have clearly been running around making it look pretty for us. Thank you guys so much for what you’re doing, it’s amazing. Keep going.”
Next, the couple met three aid workers who have recently returned from Ukraine and Europe including Vanessa Maynard, Programmes and Operations Officer for Christian Aid, back from Ukraine and Hungary, Diana Hiscock, Humanitarian Inclusion Advisor for HelpAge International back from Moldova and Bethan Lewis, head of disaster risk management, Plan International UK.
Kate asked Diana: “Has it been harder to reach the more vulnerable in the country?”
Diana replied: “It’s a very big challenge. The older communities are often not so willing to move.”
Vanessa added: “People are arriving [to areas in western Ukraine] exhausted from the trauma they’ve been through.”
William asked: “How are the Ukrainian hospitals managing?”
Vanessa told him: “More and more hospitals are being damaged, especially maternity hospitals.”
Catherine asked: “Is more needed on the ground?” to which Vanessa replied: “The amount of need is escalating every day.”
The discussion also turned to the wider impact of the war on other humanitarian crises and Bethan told them of concerns of how rising food prices caused by the conflict are likely to add to the existing food insecurity and hunger crises in east Africa.
“We need less disasters in the world,” said William.
William and Kate have shown their support for Ukraine since the outbreak of the war in February.
Last month, they visited the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in London where William told members of the Ukrainian community and volunteers: “We’re all behind you.”
In February, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the couple posted a personal Tweet: “In October 2020, we had the privilege to meet President Zelenskyy and the First Lady to learn of their hope and optimism for Ukraine’s future. Today we stand with the President and all of Ukraine’s people as they bravely fight for that future. W&C”.
Saleh Saeed said: “DEC charities have been quickly and efficiently scaling up their work to help people inside Ukraine and refugees fleeing over the border. We are seeing the real impact of the work they are doing, whether that is incubators for babies born under bombardment in Ukraine or vital protection work to ensure that vulnerable refugees are kept safe as they flee the conflict.
“We are incredibly grateful to the generous British public, to all the inspiring people and organisations that continue to do all they can to support people affected by this devastating conflict.
“We have seen everything from homemade badges sold in village shops to beautiful limited-edition artwork and of course, the Concert for Ukraine, which was broadcast not only nationally, but inside Ukraine as people watched the visible display of support from laptops in underground bunkers. It feels as though everyone is doing their bit and more.”