Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Royal Family went against age-old mantra to show support for Ukraine

King Charles visits Ukrainian troops training in south west England

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On the morning of Thursday, 24 February 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced he had begun a “specialised military operation”, sending his Russian troops into Ukraine from land, air and sea, and launching missile strikes across the country. The invasion triggered an international outcry, with world leaders condemning Putin for engaging in an “unprovoked and unjustifiable” attack. In the last 12 months, Britain has shown its support for Ukraine and those affected by the ongoing conflict, and while they do not usually comment on political matters, the Royal Family has been among those who have stood in solidarity with the country and its citizens.

The official Royal Family website states the monarch must “remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters”, with a need to maintain a level of neutrality often extended to lower-level royals.

As ITV’s Chris Ship explained in a tweet around the time of Russia’s invasion, members of the House of Windsor are “duty-bound to be impartial and rarely criticise individual leaders.” However, he added: “But they can tell the difference between right and wrong.”

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle were the first members of the family to speak out in support of Ukraine. In a statement on their Archewell website, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they “stand with the people of Ukraine” and urged world leaders to do the same.

Posted on February 24, 2022, it read: “Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and all of us at Archewell stand with the people of Ukraine against this breach of international and humanitarian law and encourage the global community and its leaders to do the same.”

Two days later, on February 26, Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, followed the Sussexes’ lead, voicing their support for Ukraine in a post on their official Twitter account.

They wrote: “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,” signing off with an emoji of the Ukrainian flag.

However, it was King Charles III, then the Prince of Wales and future monarch, who publicly condemned Russia’s invasion and Vladimir Putin.

During an official visit to Southend-on-Sea on March 1, Charles described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “brutal aggression”, comparing the conflict to the murder of the MP Sir David Amess and explaining he had stood for democracy and freedom.

He said: “We are seeing those same values under attack today in Ukraine in the most unconscionable way.”

His comments were unusually forceful for a member of the Royal Family and, at the time, one commentator described his speech as a “big play”.

The Daily Mirror royal editor Russell Myers commended Charles for the way he spoke out about the conflict. Speaking on an episode of Pod Save The Queen soon after, he said: “The royals have a duty to get the message out there. The only thing they can do is show up to these events and show solidarity. It’s a big play for him [Charles]…We often talk about the world of politics and royalty, and they don’t necessarily cross over, but for him to say: ‘We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in solidarity, the brutal Russian aggression…’”

Mr Myers added: “He’s been saying this time and time again over the last couple of weeks, and that is commendable because those words get picked up, and when you’re looking at the coverage about how countries and different politicians and different world leaders are showing solidarity and support — those words matter.

“I’m sure that Charles recognises that and of course, he can’t help the individuals, but he can try and help the greater cause. If anyone asks me ‘What do the Royal Family do?’ and plenty of people do — this is a moment where they can help. They can visit, they can make statements and they can show solidarity. I think Charles has done it rather well, to the best of his ability over the past few days.”

Shortly after his speech in Southend-on-Sea, Charles visited St Luke’s Church in Earl’s Court, where he met Ukrainian Andriy Kopylash and his daughter Veronika. Both were being supported by Holy Trinity Brompton Church (HTB), having left their home country due to fears over the Russian invasion.

During his visit, Charles heard about the services HTB has put in place, including English lessons and medical care to support refugees and asylum seekers.

The Prince praised the work of the church, saying he had the “greatest admiration” for those who are “making such a difference to the lives” of the refugees.

He went on to say: “I cannot even begin to imagine the dreadful conditions, the suffering, the agony you have all had to endure on your way to arrive here in this country. We have enormous skill shortages in this country, where so much of what you can do could be of enormous benefit. We are very lucky in many ways to have you and your skills and all you can bring.”

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In the months that followed, both Charles and his wife Queen Camilla showed their support for Ukraine, speaking with refugees, meeting with communities, and hearing the stories of those impacted by the conflict.

Camilla was visibly moved during a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London on March 3, and was reportedly in tears when she met Ukrainians and heard about the suffering caused by the deadly Russian invasion.

Later, she was was again caught “holding back tears” while meeting the wife of the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Inna Prystaik.

At an event to mark International Women’s Day a week later, the two women were reunited and Camilla spoke of “the heartbreaking conditions in Ukraine, where democracy and freedom are under brutal attack”.

In the same month, William and Kate met volunteers at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in London. There, they revealed their three children — nine-year-old Prince George, seven-year-old Princess Charlotte and four-year-old Prince Louis — had been asking about the war.

William said: “Ours have been coming home asking all about it. They are obviously talking about it with their friends at school,” before suggesting he found it difficult to discuss with his three youngsters, explaining he had to “choose my words carefully to explain what is going on”.

Later, he said Britain and the rest of Europe were united behind Ukraine and spoke of the shock of seeing war on European soil. “It’s very alien to see this in Europe. We are all behind you,” he said.

He added: “The irony is it brings Europe closer together. Europe is closer together than it’s ever been before because of Ukraine.”

A month later, on April 21, the Prince and Princess of Wales paid a visit to the London headquarters of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to hear about their ongoing support for the people affected by the conflict in Ukraine.

DEC charities and their partners in Ukraine, and neighbouring countries, are providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance, and giving donations to those affected.

William and Kate were among those who made generous donations, the DEC said, alongside the late Queen Elizabeth II, who had not spoken publicly about the invasion.

Her Majesty, however, did show subtle signs of her support for Ukraine. During her first in-person engagement since the war broke out, the Queen met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Windsor Castle.

In the background of photographs of their meeting was an arrangement of blue-and-yellow flowers, the national colours of Ukraine, featuring prominently.

Later, on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence and six months since the start of a full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation, Queen Elizabeth announced Britain’s support for Ukraine.

The monarch penned a message of felicitations to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, saying: “It gives me great pleasure to send Your Excellency and the people of Ukraine my warmest greetings on the celebration of your Independence Day.

“In this most challenging year, I hope that today will be a time for the Ukrainian people, both in Ukraine and around the world, to celebrate their culture, history and identity. May we look to better times in the future.”

Now, a year on from the start of the invasion, the Royal Family are continuing to show their support for Ukraine.

On February 20, Charles travelled to Wiltshire to meet Ukrainian military recruits embarking on a five-week training course with the British Army and international partner forces in the UK.

Following the combat training, the recruits will return to Ukraine to fight.

“You are amazing, I don’t know how you do it. I am full of admiration,” the King told a senior officer upon his arrival, according to The Independent.

Just over a week earlier, on February 8, Charles and Volodymyr Zelenskyy met for 30 minutes during the Ukrainian president’s visit to the UK.

Charles told President Zelensky “we’ve all been worried about you” as he welcomed him to Buckingham Palace.

He said: “We’ve all been worried about you and thinking about your country for so long, I can’t tell you.”

Zelensky replied: “Thank you so much,” adding he had received “big support” from Parliament, to which the King replied: “I’m so glad.”

The Ukrainian leader, who described the audience as a “truly special” moment, told the monarch it was “a great honour to be here, thank you for finding the time for me”.

Zelenskyy spoke in the Houses of Parliament before meeting with King Charles. “In Britain, the King is an air force pilot — and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king,” he said, referencing Charles’s service in the Royal Air Force, according to the BBC.

He went on to say the UK “is marching with us to the most important victory of our lifetime. After we win together, any aggressor will know what awaits him if he attacks international order.”

Details of the war in Ukraine are changing by the day, with scores of civilians reported dead or wounded. Though, the actual number of deaths is difficult to determine.

More than seven million have fled the country as refugees, according to the United Nations, who claimed half are children. Meanwhile, millions more have been displaced within Ukraine.

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