Duchess of Edinburgh condemns Russian forces for using rape as a weapon of war

The Duchess of Edinburgh has condemned Russian forces’ use of rape as a weapon of war on her historic visit to Ukraine.

Sophie, 59, is the first member of the British royal family to visit Ukraine since Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion of their neighbour in February 2022.

The Duchess made the visit to show the UK’s support for the Ukrainian people, but acknowledged that in wars it is often “women and girls [who] pay the highest price in terms of human cost.”

She then bravely explained how female bodies are weaponised during conflicts, as has been the case in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

“Rape is used to demean, to degrade and to destroy. And we have to get better at trying to prevent that from happening,” she said during a reception at the home of the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, Martin Harris.

“Where we cannot prevent it from happening. What we must do is put measures in place to support those who have fallen victim to such crimes.”

The Duchess also tried to enact action during a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska, where they discussed possible strategies to support those affected.

The Duchess has repeatedly spoken out against sexual violence in war (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)

This visit comes as an important step forward in Sophie’s work in championing the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) and the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS).

She pledged her support to the causes in 2019 – notably on International Women’s Day.

Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, previously told The Independent: “It is essential that survivors of sexual violence have access to urgent post-rape care, including in wartime, and that investigations into potential war crimes in Ukraine include rape and other gender-based violence.”

Discussions were held about how best to support victims of the sexual war crimes (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA Wire)

The Duchess did not just meet with officials, she met with survivors of sexual violence too – as well as children kidnapped and later returned to their families by Russian forces.

According to reports from within Ukraine, an estimated 20,000 children have been kidnapped since the war began, but only 400 of them have been returned.

Sophie’s decision to highlight this cause from within Ukraine comes after she spoke about the issue at the Sexual Violence Conference last month.

The event also took place in Ukraine and the Duchess attended via a video link.

She asserted: “We must stand shoulder to shoulder with all survivors to secure justice and holistic redress, and ensure that this crime isn’t an accepted part of conflict.”

Sophie is doing her bit to help the Ukrainian people (AP)

In the same speech, she denounced Russian soldiers’ decision to rape women and girls – which has been reported since the beginning of the conflict – as “pure evil”.

Sophie said: “Rape requires no training, no armoury, no financial backing, but is as devastating as bullets and bombs not only in the immediacy of the attacks but for the rest of the victims and their families’ lives.

“Conflict-related sexual violence must end now.”

The UK has supported Ukraine since the current conflict broke out in 2022, committing a total of £357 million in humanitarian assistance.

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