Duchess Sophie's royal first as she undertakes surprise overseas visit

The Duchess of Edinburgh has visited Ukraine for the first time since the Russian invasion over two years ago

Duchess Sophie of Edinburgh
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie has undertaken a royal first as she paid a surprise one-day visit to Ukraine.

The Duchess of Edinburgh has been seen stepping up more than ever in recent months following King Charles’s cancer diagnosis and her latest overseas trip is a royal first. On 29th April Duchess Sophie became the first member of the British Royal Family to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in 2022. Her surprise one day visit was undertaken on behalf of the Foreign Office and was to "demonstrate solidarity" with men, women and children who have been impacted by the war with Russia. It was also a continuation of her work to champion survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, Buckingham Palace confirmed.

Duchess Sophie met President Volodymyr Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska and, as per the BBC, gave them a private message from King Charles. They discussed how to best provide long-lasting support for survivors of sexual violence in conflicts and about the vital role that women peacebuilders are playing in Ukraine’s recovery.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh and the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ukraine Martin Harris (L) visit the Romanivska Bridge on April 29, 2024 in Irpin, Ukraine

(Image credit: Photo by Anatolii Stepanov - Pool/Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie also talked to survivors of both sexual violence and torture and at the United Nations’ Survivor Relief Centre in Kyiv, she learnt more about the centres that operate in 12 Ukrainian cities. They provide both vital psychosocial and legal support to those who need it, especially conflict-related sexual violence survivors.

Visiting the "Road to Life", the Duchess of Edinburgh paid her respects to the people who lost their lives in Bucha, two years after its liberation from Russian Forces. Road to Life is a bridge that had a key role to play in the Ukrainian resistance as it was blown up to prevent Russian forces from advancing on Kyiv and went on to become a major route for people to get to safety. The Duchess of Edinburgh also heard from children who had been forcibly separated from their families and have safely returned to Ukraine.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh visits the memorial to the victims of the Russian occupation in the town of Bucha on April 29, 2024

(Image credit: Photo by Anatolii Stepanov - Pool/Getty Images)

At an evening reception held at the UK Ambassador to Ukraine’s residence, the senior royal later opened up about meeting survivors in other countries experiencing conflict.

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

On the International Women’s Day in 2019, the Duchess announced her commitment to championing the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS) and the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). She has continued to showcase her ongoing dedication and at the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence conference this year she expressed her belief that "we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all survivors to secure justice and holistic redress", as well as to "ensure that this crime isn’t an accepted part of conflict".

"Their rights and their voices must be at the heart of all our efforts to consign conflict-related sexual violence to the history books," she added.

Her Royal Highness’s visit to Ukraine is a hugely significant one and follows her visits to other countries over the years to highlight the impact of ongoing and historical conflicts. In February 2024, King Charles shared a personal message marking two years of conflict in Ukraine.

"The determination and strength of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire, as the unprovoked attack on their land, their lives and livelihoods enters a third, tragic, year," he declared, before adding, "My heart goes out to all those affected, as I remember them in my thoughts and prayers."

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!