A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Prince William said seeing war in Europe was alien, unlike in Asia and Africa, based on comments reported by a British wire service. Video of the remarks did not include the comparison to Africa and Asia. The article has been corrected.
Local media reported that he made the remark during a visit to the Ukrainian Cultural Center in London. For Britons of his generation, he said, “it’s very alien to see this in Europe.”
“We are all behind you,” he reportedly said, expressing support for the people of Ukraine, who have been subjected to widespread bombings by Russia during its invasion of their country.
According to some reports, he was comparing the Russia-Ukraine conflict with those in Africa and Asia. Video of his appearance captured his comment about the rarity of war in Europe, but not the comparisons, and the wire service that originated the story later corrected it. But as the stories were shared, the backlash grew.
The prince, second in line to the throne of a country with a long colonial history, was excoriated, as many pointed out that his ancestors were responsible for conflicts in other parts of the world.
“The war and bloodshed were initiated by his family,” tweeted Snehesh Alex Philip, an editor at the Print, an Indian news site. “In India, they looted and plundered even as [many people] died of famine and their torture. The subcontinent still faces violence thanks to the seed they sowed before leaving,” he wrote, adding, “Such a racist comment by Prince William.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted, “Read a book about your own family, dude,” and attached an image of Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and his wife, Wallis Simpson, meeting with Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1937. (According to a 2016 BBC report, the visit was not an endorsement of the Nazi regime, an aide to the duke said years later, but rather served as a chance for Simpson to experience a state trip.)
Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and chief executive of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, called William’s remark “horrific.”
“European people ran roughshod over the continent of Africa, pillaging communities, raping women, enslaving human beings, colonizing for profit and power, stealing resources, causing generational devastation,” she wrote on Twitter. “And European nations continue to harm Africa.”
AJ+ journalist Sana Saeed wrote: “I really don’t expect any less from a member of one of the most violent empires in modern human history that has yet to face a day of justice for its crimes against millions of people.”
Robert Jobson, royal editor at the London Evening Standard, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he was confident William’s statement “has been taken out of context.” Jobson described William as “an educated man,” adding: “I am sure he didn’t mean it to be racist.”
Jobson noted that “to have a war in Europe to most Europeans is unfamiliar and deeply troubling,” he said.
“Perhaps he was simply trying to say, albeit clumsily, that this war in Ukraine feels very close to home, as he was only a small child when the Bosnia conflict started and this is perhaps his first experience of such terrible conflict happening in Europe during his adulthood.”
In response to an inquiry regarding the social media storm, Kensington Palace pointed to a correction run by the U.K wire service PA Media and a transcript shared by ITV. “We do not have anything on the record to add at this time," the palace said.
Allegations of racism within Britain’s royal family circulated globally last year after Prince Harry and Meghan gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey in which they claimed that before their son, Archie, was born, the palace held “conversations” about “how dark his skin might be.”
Winfrey later said Harry told her it was not Queen Elizabeth II or her husband, Prince Philip, who raised the question about the child’s skin tone, but the allegation stunned viewers and prompted the queen to issue a rare personal statement regarding the family divisions.
“The whole family was saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” she said, adding that “the issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning.”
Following the interview, William was asked about the claims.
“We’re very much not a racist family,” he said at the time.
William and Harry’s late grandfather, Philip, frequently came under fire for racist remarks that stunned onlookers. “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed,” he said to a group of students during a visit to China in 1986. In 2002, he asked an Aborigine in Australia if they were “still throwing spears.”
Prince Charles, William and Harry’s father and heir to the throne, has also faced criticism over remarks on race.
William has not been the only high-profile figure to draw attention for comments made about the war in Ukraine. CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata said in a report from Kyiv that Ukraine was not “a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose my words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
He later apologized.
A reporter for the British news broadcaster ITV, Lucy Watson, said “now the unthinkable has happened” in Ukraine.
“And this is not a developing, Third World nation,” she said. “This is Europe.”
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on Sept. 21, framing the move as an attempt to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that seeks to use Ukraine as a tool to “divide and destroy Russia.” Follow our live updates here.
The fight: A successful Ukrainian counteroffensive has forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Annexation referendums: Staged referendums, which would be illegal under international law, are set to take place from Sept. 23 to 27 in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson starting Friday.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.