Since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several celebrities have travelled to the country to raise awareness of its plight – and to meet with its world-famous wartime leader Volodymyr Zelensky.
Visitors have ranged from Hollywood A-listers and directors, to musicians, billionaires, television survivalists, chefs and even an astronaut.
By March 2022, it had become clear that Ukraine was not going to fall to Putin’s forces in a matter of weeks, but rather that it was capable of mounting a strong defence and even of pushing Moscow’s armies back east.
Once Kyiv was deemed relatively safe, famous faces began to pop up in the capital every few weeks to tour regions left devastated by Russian bombs and to shake hands with Ukraine’s own celebrity president, who has shrewdly harnessed their star power to keep the pressure on his western allies to send aid and weapons.
Using their considerable influence and reach, these celebrities have worked to raise awareness of the human cost of the war, to help amplify Zelensky’s calls, and to demand Russia end its illegal invasion.
As Orlando Bloom, Ukraine’s most recent celebrity guest, jets back home, MailOnline looks back at some of the most high-profile names to travel to the war-torn country over the past year…
SUNDAY: Hollywood star and UNICEF ambassador Orlando Bloom poses with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday. Since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, several celebrities have travelled to the country to raise awareness of its plight and to meet with its world-famous war-time president
MAY: U2’s Bono and The Edge sing during a performance for Ukrainian people inside a subway station, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine
MAY: Bono (centre), activist and front man of the Irish rock band U2, greets people as he inspects the damage to a residential area in the Ukrainian town of Irpin, near Kyiv
MAY: Hollywood actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie (left) speaks with a young victim of a Russian attack on a train station a month earlier, which left at least 50 people dead
JUNE: US actor and director Ben Stiller shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to Kyiv last year in his role as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR
After high-profile visits from the leaders of some of Ukraine’s most important allies, one of the earliest celebrity guests was singer Bono and guitarist The Edge of the legendary Irish rock band U2 in May 2022 – just three months after the invasion.
At Zelensky’s invitation, the pair put on a surprise concert in a metro station in Kyiv – frequently used as bomb shelters during Russian missile strikes – joining members of a Ukrainian band ‘onstage’, while also going on a tour around regions that fell victim to Russian war crimes, such as the city of Irpin.
The pair were seen with a large entourage of Ukrainian press and military types – just a month after atrocities were discovered in Irpin and neighbouring Bucha – as they navigated streets lined with blown-out buildings and burned car wrecks.
Their visit was soon followed by Hollywood actresses and humanitarians Angelina Jolie and Jessica Chastain, as well as actor and UN-ambassador Ben Stiller.
Chastain and Stiller both visited Zelensky in his presidential office in Kyiv, where they listened to him describe the horrors facing his people.
In a video posted to his Instagram account during his trip, Stiller said: ‘Hey, I’m Ben Stiller, and I’m here in Ukraine. I’m meeting people who’ve been impacted by the war and hearing how it’s changed their lives.
‘War and violence are devastating people all over the world. Nobody chooses to flee their home. Seeking safety is a right, and it needs to be upheld for every person.’
‘Ray Donovan’ actor Liev Schreiber was one of the first TV stars to visit in March 2022, while veteran star Jean-Claude Van Damme travelled to Ukraine in December.
Oscar-winning actor-turned-director Sean Penn has also spent time in Ukraine, where he has been filming a documentary about Zelensky and the country while strongly advocating for more military support to be sent from the US.
‘If Russia wins,’ he has said, ‘we’re all f***ed.’
JUNE: British billionaire Richard Branson meets Zelensky in Kyiv’s presidential palace
JULY: British singer Ellie Goulding (right) is seen with Zelensky during a trip to Ukraine after she was invited to take part in a summit hosted by Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska
AUGUST: Spanish chef Jose Andres (centre) from World Central Kitchen meets with Ukraine’s president Zelensky (right) in his presidential office in Kyiv
AUGUST: US Hollywood A-lister Jessica Chastain (right) poses for a photo with Zelensky in Kyiv
AUGUST: Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain listens to Zelensky in Kyiv’s presidential palace
AUGUST: ‘Ray Donovan’ actor Liev Schreiber shakes hands with Zelensky in Kyiv
AUGUST: US actor, director and screenwriter Liev Schreiber (R) and Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko, both ambassadors of UNITED24 fundraising platform, walk the streets of Borodyanka, a town left devastated by Russian bombs
NOVEMBER: Veteran chat show host David Letterman (left) shakes hands with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky during filming for Letterman’s Netflix show
NOVEMBER: Actor-turned-director Sean Penn has spent time in Ukraine, where he has been filming a documentary about Zelensky while strongly advocating for more military support to be sent from the US. Here, he is seen (left) having handed Zelensky one of his Oscars
NOVEMBER: US actor Sean Penn (left) walks through Kyiv along-side President Zelensky, protected by his armed guards
As with Penn’s focus on the now-world famous president, American chat-show veteran David Letterman also travelled to Kyiv in October to interview Zelensky for his Netflix show ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.’
The 60-minute interview, which aired in December, saw Zelensky mock arch-enemy Putin and downplay air-raid sirens heard in the background.
World-renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz also visited the country, taking pictures of Ukraine’s president and his wife Olena for Vogue magazine.
In addition to its three Prime Ministers to hold the post since the war broke out, Britain has also seen a number of its celebrities touch down in Ukraine.
Billionaire Richard Branson toured war-torn areas around Kyiv when he visited in June. He met with Zelensky as well as the country’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, describing his sorrow upon seeing ‘the burned-out shells of residential buildings hit by indiscriminate Russian airstrikes and missile attacks.’
He was also taken to see the wreckage of the An-225 Mriya – the World’s largest plane – which was destroyed in the Battle of Antonov Airport in February 2022.
That same month, British Singer Ellie Goulding also travelled to the embattled country to take part in a summit hosted by Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska, describing the invitation as ‘one of the greatest honours’.
In February of this year actor Jack Gleason, known for playing the notorious character of King Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones, spoke to actors at a theatre in Kyiv, and took part in a film workshop that was interrupted by an air raid siren.
Other notable Brits who travelled to and across Ukraine were TV survivalist Bear Grylls – who met with Zelensky in December while filming a Channel 4 documentary – and Robert Del Naja, the lead singer of the band Massive Attack.
Most recently, Orlando Bloom – in his role as a UNICEF ambassador – visited Zelensky in the country’s presidential palace on Sunday (March 26), and also met with several children whose lives have been turned upside-down by Putin’s war.
The star of the Pirates Of The Caribbean and Lord Of The Rings films told Zelensky that he thought the bravery and resolve of the Ukrainian people was ‘awe inspiring’.
Both men appeared somewhat star-struck, embracing and sharing an enthusiastic handshake upon meeting. Zelensky himself was an actor in Ukraine – playing a teacher who becomes president – before his stratospheric political rise.
NOVEMBER: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly poses for a photo with a 13-year-old Ukrainian girl who was injured and lost her mother in a Russian missile strike on a railway station in April
DECEMBER: British TV survival expert Bear Grylls walks down a pathway flanked by snow in Kyiv. He was in Ukraine to film a show for Britain’s Channel 4
FEBRUARY 2023: British actor Jack Gleeson, who played Joffrey Baratheon on the HBO television series Game of Thrones, speaks with Ukrainian actors during an event at the Young Spectator’s Theater in Kyiv during a visit to Ukraine earlier this year
MARCH 2023: Actor and UNICEF ambassador Orlando Bloom (right) poses for a photograph with Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday during their meeting in Kyiv
Other famous people to have visited Ukraine in the last year have been Cary Fukunaga, who directed the most recent James Bond film (No Times To Die), French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Spanish chef José Andrés and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly – who like Angelie Jolie visited child victims of Russian air strikes.
While some voices have been critical of such visits, accusing celebrities of ‘war tourism’ or of using Ukraine to boost their own profile, Ukraine has praised its guests for travelling to raise awareness for the country’s struggles.
In June, a tweet from Ukraine’s department of defence thanks Hollywood stars who ‘despite the danger, have visited us.’
The tweet said: ‘You are more than just an inspiration to all of us,’ the message said. ‘Millions around the world have heard the truth from you about the struggle of the [Ukrainian] people.’