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Sarah, Duchess of York makes an emotional visit to meet Ukrainian orphans living in Bucharest

The Duchess spent time with orphaned children now living with the Jewish charity Tikva in Romania after fleeing their home in Odessa, Ukraine

Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
21 April 2024
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Sarah, Duchess of York has shown her support and compassion for the orphaned children of Ukraine with an emotional visit to the Tikva charity's children's home in Romania's capital Bucharest.

During a two-day visit – and accompanied every step of the way by HELLO! – Sarah met Ukrainian refugees as she toured the Tikva orphanage, which looks after Jewish orphans from Ukraine and the neighbouring regions of the former Soviet Union.

WATCH: Sarah, Duchess of York meets Ukrainian orphans in Bucharest

Eleven years on from the Duchess' first visit to the charity at its base in Odessa, the community has experienced the heartbreaking trauma of leaving their home country - fleeing the Ukraine-Russia conflict on a perilous journey across the border - to set up a safe haven in Bucharest.

As the Duchess looked around Tikva's new children's home, school and housing for its alumni orphans, she told us why she identifies with the plight of refugees.

Sarah Ferguson reading book to children at Tikva in Bucharest© Blake Ezra
The Duchess of York visited Tikva in Bucharest

“None of us can know what it’s like to have to leave the life you’ve had with your belongings in a plastic bag and start a new life as a refugee, depending on the support of others," she said.

“I have worked with displaced people for over 30 years, starting with the Bosnian War in 1992.  

“I came to the Ukrainian border three times last year with my charity Sarah’s Trust, bringing items of aid. I’m constantly humbled by the bravery, love and determination that I encounter among refugee communities.

Sarah, Duchess of York wearing yellow trouser suit and scarf posing outside Tikva orphanage in Romania © Blake Ezra
She showed her support and compassion for the orphaned children of Ukraine

"And while I would obviously never compare myself to anyone in that situation, I feel I have a tiny sliver of understanding of what it’s like to lose your world, my mother having left the family when I was 11.”

Duchess Sarah, mother and grandmother

Wearing a bracelet bearing the names of her daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, the royal mother told us how she instilled a sense of empathy and compassion in her girls from a young age. "They were born to learn about charity, they were born to give," she said

Duchess Sarah of York in cream blazer chatting to children at Tikva© Blake Ezra
Duchess Sarah met Ukrainian refugees as she toured the Tikva orphanage

"[As children], if they were complaining and moaning, I'd put them outside in the freezing cold… then they would complain and moan, and I'd say, 'Well, imagine what it's like if you're in the middle of nowhere with no coat and never can get a coat'. They soon stopped moaning.

“It was probably moaning at something like, 'Why are we watching Barbie and not watching something else', nothing serious," adds Sarah, who marked the girls’ 18th birthdays by taking them to a unit run by the Teenage Cancer Trust. "I wanted to teach them how to take the hand of a person who's dying," she explains.

The Duchess visits Tikva

Sarah Duchess of York holding baby outside Tikva © Blake Ezra
There is an emotional reunion with new mother Vika, who first met the Duchess as a child

Sarah’s deep compassion was evident throughout the journey we shared with her.

There is an emotional reunion with new mother Vika, who first met the Duchess as a child in 2013 in Odessa, where she was photographed presenting her with a bunch of flowers. Now living in an apartment block for adult orphan refugees, Vika was delighted to see Sarah again – and to introduce her to her two-week-old son Pinchas.

Picking the baby up for a cuddle, Sarah said: "I've seen children like Vika since she was very little when I went to Odessa in 2013, and she's now pushing a pram with her lovely husband and baby. So, this is hope, this is longevity, and this is the Rabbis and Tikva saying, 'You'll never be without us, we'll always be here for you.'"

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York visiting the Tikva orphanage, which looks after Jewish orphans from Ukraine© Blake Ezra
The Duchess met Vika in 2013 in Odessa

The Duchess also talked to Decebal, a housing developer who has provided the 230 new apartments, as well as office space which the charity has converted into an orphanage, Sarah says: "That is an extraordinarily kind generous act, I can't thank you enough. Why do you think you're so kind?” To which Decebal replies: "All the Romanians are like me".

Touring the orphanage and school

At the orphanage, Tikva's community of children and alumni greeted the Duchess with an array of cheerful banners and flags.

Sarah, Duchess of York pictured hugging a little boy at Tikva children's home in Bucharest © Blake Ezra
The Duchess looked around Tikva's new children's home, school and housing for its alumni orphans

"As you come through the gates, you feel Odessa, you feel the Ukrainian hope, the courage, the sense that one day we will get home, we will rebuild, and if not, until then this is their home - and it does feel like home,” she said. “There is that sense of 'You are not alone'."

Sarah read a bedtime story to a group of young children gathered around her, and her maternal nature shone through. One little boy sat on her lap and showed her his toy sword, and he and the other children listened captivated as she read them the Princess and the Pea, and her own book, A Gift of Kindness.

On the second day of her visit, Sarah toured schools attended by around 500 orphans and children from the local community. She immediately put a nervous young girl called Eliana at ease.

Duchess of York in blue blazer shaking Ukranian orphan refugee's hand © Blake Ezra
Tikva's community greeted the Duchess with an array of cheerful banners and flags

"I started with 'hello' and she wrote 'hello' back. She copied my writing," the Duchess told us. "I wrote 'I know you must be scared'. She didn't quite understand so someone translated it quickly, and then I drew a heart, and she drew a heart.

“I could feel the energy moving and shifting. It was seriously one of the most poignant moments of many, many years. It was very beautiful because it was drawing Eliana out of this tremendous fear, then at the end when she looked up at me… and that hug."

The young children in the kindergarten sang for her, the Duchess then handing out sweets and pencils with her famous 'Little Red' doll on top. “The little doll is so you know there is someone in England thinking of you," she tells them.

Sarah Ferguson in blue blazer hugging woman from Tikva orphanage© Blake Ezra
'I love to learn from other people, I love to feel it,' said Sarah

Supporting Tikva and the Jewish faith

"It feels very wholesome to support Tikva," she shared. "By doing that you are supporting the Jewish faith globally and I feel strongly about that. You're uniting Rabbis all over the world to say, 'We're here, Tikva, you have hope' and we must spread awareness to fight for peace. It's such a beautiful message."

The most striking thing about the Duchess is how much she cares - about children and adults alike.  "Wherever I go in the world, I love people. I'm a communicator, I love to learn from other people, I love to feel it," said Sarah.

Sophie Hamilton from HELLO! with Sarah Ferguson in Romania © Blake Ezra
HELLO!'s Sophie Hamilton (left) accompanied the Duchess on her trip

"I speak from the heart, because I can't imagine what it must be like to not know how you're going to feed your child. So, when I go to these extraordinary places like Tikva, when I'm in the field and working, I'm solely there. I am very present."

Tikva needs to raise $16m (£12.8m) a year to meet all their needs. To donate visit

To read the full interview, pick up the latest issue of HELLO! on sale in the UK now. You can subscribe to HELLO! to get the magazine delivered free to your door every week or purchase the digital edition online via our Apple or Google apps.

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