Zelenskyy, Pope discuss Ukraine’s humanitarian needs

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a private audience with Pope Francis on Saturday where they discussed the need to help “innocent victims” of the conflict, the Vatican said.

During their 40-minute talk, they discussed issues relating to “the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war”, a Vatican statement said, without mentioning Russia by name.

The 86-year-old pontiff assured Zelenskyy “of his constant prayers, witnessed by his many public appeals and continuous invocation to the Lord for peace since February last year”, when Russia invaded its neighbor.

“Together they agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts to support the population. The pope stressed in particular the urgent need for ‘human gestures’ towards the most fragile people, innocent victims of the conflict.”

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also met the pope, inviting him to visit Ukraine and asking for his help in returning children forcibly taken to Russia.

Speaking to reporters while flying home from a trip to Hungary a few days later, the pope confirmed he wanted to help.

Shmyhal also said they had discussed Zelenskyy’s plan for peace and “the different steps the Vatican could take” to help Kyiv achieve its goals.

In his press conference, Francis said he was willing to do everything necessary for peace in Ukraine, adding: “A mission is under way, but it isn’t yet public.”

Both Kyiv and Moscow said they know nothing about such a mission.

Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including offering to mediate with Moscow, although that has yet to yield any public results.

In the early months of the war, he drew criticism for failing to blame Russia directly for the conflict.

In a March interview, he said he had offered to go to Moscow to negotiate peace but had been rebuffed, adding that the conflict involved “imperial interests”, and not just Russia’s.

Zelenskyy also met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during his visit to Rome, which will be followed by a visit on Sunday to Berlin.

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