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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have paid tribute to the bravery of the Ukraine team at the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games, with the Duchess of Sussex exclaiming: ‘Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)’
The Duke said he hopes the games, which are taking place in The Hague in the Netherlands, will create the opportunity for the world to ‘better show up’ for the country of Ukraine.
Harry appeared emotional after he was introduced to the stage by wife Meghan, with the pair kissing before he delivered a heartfelt speech.
Harry founded the Invictus Games to aid the rehabilitation of injured or sick military personnel and veterans from across the globe, by giving them the challenge of competing in sporting events similar to the Paralympics.
The Ukraine team received a standing ovation and extended round of applause when they arrived for the ceremony at The Hague’s Zuiderpark on Saturday night.
Back home, their country is currently under a brutal invasion by Russian forces, ordered into the country on February 24 by president Vladimir Putin.
A crew has joined Harry and Meghan at the games as part of filming for a Netflix documentary called Heart Of Invictus – a series from Archewell Productions following people who are competing at the event.
Pictured: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex speaks on stage during the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Opening Ceremony at Zuiderpark on April 16, 2022. The Duke said he hopes the games, which are taking place in The Hague in the Netherlands, will create the opportunity for the world to ‘better show up’ for the country of Ukraine
Meghan Markle paid tribute to the bravery of the Ukraine team at the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games, with the Duchess of Sussex exclaiming: ‘Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!)’
The Ukrainian Invictus Team is seen during the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Opening Ceremony at Zuiderpark on April 16, 2022 in The Hague
People applaud for Ukraine, as Russia’s invasion of the country continues, during the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games in The Hague, Netherlands April 16, 2022
Meghan, who was invited on stage to speak, said everyone is ‘standing with’ the Ukraine team. She said: ‘Good evening everyone. We are so grateful to the Netherlands for welcoming us and for hosting the Invictus Games.
‘For each team, my husband and I both recognise it’s been a lot to get here, both physically and emotionally. Not least of which for the Ukraine team, who we are all standing with.’
To huge applause, she added: ‘Slava Ukraini!’
Harry echoed his wife’s sentiment, saying: ‘Your bravery in choosing to come and for being here tonight cannot be overstated.
‘You told me yesterday when you decided to join us despite all odds, you said you came to be on this global stage, not simply to show your strength but to tell your truth, the truth, of what is happening in your country.
‘You know we stand with you. The world is united with you and still you deserve more. And my hope is that these events, this event, creates the opportunity in how we as a global community can better show up for you.’
Harry paid tribute to the ‘boundless humility, the compassion and the friendship’ of the Invictus Games.
He said: ‘I want to personally thank the people of the Netherlands for welcoming us with such warm Dutch hospitality.
‘And thank you to the Dutch government, the Ministry of Defence and the Dutch royal family for their support in making this all happen after a two-year wait.’
In her remarks, Meghan said: ‘One thing I know for sure is that every single moment it has taken to get here will be worth it, because it is here at the Invictus Games that we honour your years of active duty on the field and your continued service to your country, to your family and your community off the field.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Invictus Games opening ceremony at Zuiderpark on April 16, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands
Prince Harry appeared to get emotional after he was introduced to the stage by Meghan
Prime Minister of The Netherlands, Mark Rutte speaks during the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Opening Ceremony
‘Thank you so much for your service and thank you to all the family and the friends that are here, who’ve been supporting you along the way. Because this is service, this is dedication, and this is the Invictus family.’
The opening ceremony featured live performances by the Kaiser Chiefs, the Johan Willem Friso royal military band, singer-songwriter Anneke van Giersbergen, and rock band DI-RECT.
Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were among those in the audience.
One of the biggest cheers of the night came when the Prime Minister of the Netherlands paid tribute to the Ukrainian team.
He said: ‘No doubt you are here with both mixed feelings and grave concerns about what’s happening at home and some members of your team can’t be here because they are fighting on the frontlines. And like you, we are thinking of them.
‘And we are also thinking of those Ukrainians in the Invictus community who have paid the ultimate price while fighting in the war.
‘They deserve our highest respect. Please know that we are all behind you, that we support Ukraine,’ he said.
Mr Rutte also said he wanted to extend a special welcome to the Ukrainian team.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex delivers an emotional speech during the Invictus Games Opening Ceremony at Zuiderpark
Harry also referenced his son Archie in his speech, saying they often talked about what he would want to do when he grows up
Meghan and Harry all smiles while watching the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games
Hans Ploegmakers, an injured veteran, played the Dutch version of The Last Post on trumpet followed by a minutes silence.
The crowd were told that an empty yellow chair would be left at each of the sporting venues to salute fallen servicemen and women who had died serving their country.
The opening ceremony came after Harry and Meghan hopped into miniature open-topped Land Rover vehicles driven by two little girls earlier in the day.
The duke also took part in the Jaguar Land Rover driving challenge, sitting in the front passenger seat and helping to navigate a course of bridge structures, ramps and rocks.
Jaguar Land Rover provides financial backing for the games.
The couple arrived at the Zuiderpark around lunchtime and looked casual and relaxed as they chatted to people.
Both sporting sunglasses on a sunny Saturday, the pair met children at a small track next to the main driving course, and each sat in the passenger space next to their young drivers.
Meghan was driven around by five-year-old French girl Mya Poirot, while Harry was driven by four-year-old Dutch girl Scarlet Vroegop.
At one point Meghan appeared to praise Mya for her driving as she could be seen applauding.
The couple made their first public appearance together in Europe since quitting as senior working royals more than two years ago when they attended a reception at the games on Friday.
The couple shared an intimate on-stage kiss at the opening ceremony – before the prince delivered his speech to more than 500 injured veteran competitors, telling them he would be proud if his son grew up to have their ‘character’.
The Sussexes share a kiss before Prince Harry delivers a speech to thousands in the audience
The royal couple’s PDA moment came after Meghan spoke of her ‘love and respect ‘ for Harry before mentioning their two young children and saying she could ‘not be prouder of my husband’.
The Duchess cut a chic figure at the event in an elegant white top, high waisted black trousers and a gold Cartier necklace, while Harry opted for a grey suit and open-collared white shirt.
It comes after they spent the day meeting injured military veterans before hitching a ride on mini Land Rovers – driven by children – with their Netflix crew in tow to capture every moment.
Meghan told the audience Harry had spent ‘many late nights and early mornings’ planning for the games – which he founded in 2014 – and described him as ‘incredible’
After thanking the veterans present for their military service, she said: ‘Now it is my distinguished honour to introduce who you will be excited to hear from.
‘He has spent many late nights and early mornings planning for these games to make them as perfect as possible for each of you.
‘I could not love and respect him more and I know many of you feel the same because he is your fellow veteran having served two tours of Afghanistan, and ten years of military service and the founder of Invictus Games and the father to our two little ones, Archie and Lili.
‘Please welcome my incredible husband, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.’
Harry took to the stage and kissed Meghan as he took the microphone out of her hand. He smiled broadly as she returned to her seat and said: ‘Thank you my love’.
Harry and Meghan take to the stage during the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games in The Hague on Saturday night
He also referenced his son Archie in his speech, saying they often talked about what he would want to do when he grows up.
Harry told the audience that his son one day wanted to be an astronaut and another day a pilot.
‘A helicopter pilot, obviously,’ said Harry, in reference to his own military career.
He then added that some days his son wanted to be Kwazii, a daredevil cat from the cartoon TV cartoon series Octonauts.
‘If you are laughing, then you have seen it,’ Harry told the audience.
He continued: ‘But I remind him no matter what you want to be when you grow up it is your character that matters most and nothing would make his mum and me prouder than to see him have the character of what we see before us today.
‘You as a community have overcome immense challenges and you are healing and teaching the world as you go.
‘You are people of resilience, and strength and of heart. You have the heart of Invictus.’
Harry and Meghan had earlier walked hand in hand upon their arrival as they approached team members and stopped for a chat and some photos – before taking their seats to hear a speech from Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte.
In the colourful opening ceremony, flags of each of the 20 competing nations were carried out on stage to loud cheers.
They were paraded through the stadium with the Afghanistan team carrying a neutral flag as the country is currently run by the Taliban following the US-UK withdrawal last summer.
Harry was then called on to the stage to present the medals of the earlier Land Rover Driving challenge. The Duke of Sussex had been pictured sat in the passenger seat while the car was taken over an obstacle course as Meghan looked on.
The Kaiser Chiefs performed the song ‘Coming Home’ as 32 military volunteers carried lighted blocks celebrating the 5th Invictus Games.
Harry and Meghan’s arrival came after national teams walked out to a live military band – with Ukraine receiving a huge standing ovation.
The team, who were granted special permission to compete from President Volodymyr Zelensky amid the Russian invasion, waved to the cheering crowds while the band’s cover of Euphoria by Loreen blasted through the rafters.
Others performing tonight include Dutch singer-songwriter Anneke van Giersbergen and Hague-based rock band DI-RECT.
The Games will run until next Friday and will see more than 500 competitors from 20 nations battle it out in events including archery, athletics, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
The annual event was founded by Harry, with the first ever edition being held in London back in 2014, followed by the US, Canada and Australia.
The Hague was supposed to host the 2020 Games but it was pushed back to this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.