Zelensky met Pope Francis at the Vatican, saying he had asked for support for his peace plan

ROME — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he had sought support for his peace plan from the pontiff, who has previously offered to help end the war sparked by Russia’s year-long invasion of Ukraine. before

Zelenskiy held his hand over his heart and said it was a “great honor” to meet the Pope. Francis, using a cane for a knee problem, came to greet the Ukrainian president before sending him to the papal studio near the Vatican auditorium. “Thank you for your visit,” Francis said as their 40-minute meeting began.

In a tweet after the papal audience, Zelensky thanked Francis “for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians.” He said he spoke with the pontiff about “tens of thousands of deported (Ukrainian) children. We must make every effort to bring them back home.”

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmihal asked the Pope to help return the children from Russia to Ukraine. But the Vatican’s written statement after Saturday’s talks made no mention of the children’s plea for help.

Instead, the Vatican said the two men spoke about Ukraine’s “humanitarian and political situation, provoked by the ongoing war.”

“The Pope has assured his constant prayer, evidenced by his many public appeals and continuous appeals to the Lord for peace since February of last year,” the Vatican said, referring to the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. 2022 by the Russian Armed Forces.

“Both agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts to help the population,” the Holy See said in a statement. “The Pope of Rome particularly emphasized the urgent need for “humanitarian gestures” towards the most fragile people, the innocent victims of the conflict,” the statement said.

Zelensky also said that he asked the Pope to condemn Russian “crimes in Ukraine” because “there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.” And he said he asked Francis to join the Ukraine peace plan.

“I also spoke about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace,” Zelensky said. Later, in an interview with Italian state television, the Ukrainian leader said that the Pope “knows my position. The war is in Ukraine, that’s why it should be Ukraine’s plan to bring peace.

Zelensky’s 10-point plan would create a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. It will also create a Euro-Atlantic security architecture with safeguards for Ukraine, restore Ukraine’s damaged energy infrastructure and ensure security around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye.

Earlier, Zelensky received promises from Italian officials of both indefinite military and financial support, as well as stronger support for Ukraine’s cherished goal of joining the European Union.

“The message is clear and simple,” Prime Minister Georgia Maloney said at Zelensky’s side as the two reporters met in her office after their meeting, which lasted more than an hour. “The future of Ukraine is the future of peace and freedom. And that is the future of Europe, the future of peace and freedom, for which there are no other possible solutions.”

Maloney also renewed his pledge to protect Ukraine’s EU ambitions, saying Ukraine was pushing ahead with necessary reforms despite the war.

The prime minister, who strongly supports military aid to Ukraine, said Italy would support the country “360 degrees at all times and beyond”.

Zelensky began his official meetings by addressing Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Presidential Quirinale Palace. “We’re totally on your side,” Mattarella told Zelensky as he greeted him. Later, after their meeting, presidential palace sources said Mattarella assured his guest that Italy would continue to provide military and financial support to Ukraine, as well as through reconstruction and humanitarian aid, both in the short and long term.

Since the start of the war, Italy has provided nearly 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in military and financial aid, as well as humanitarian aid.

Zelensky is expected to travel to Berlin, his first visit to Germany since the start of the war. Due to security concerns, the exact schedule has not been publicly announced.

In late April, returning to Rome from a trip to Hungary, Francis told reporters on a plane that the Vatican was involved in a behind-the-scenes peace mission, but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine approved such an initiative.

He said he would like to go to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, if such a visit were to be combined with a visit to Moscow, hoping that the papal pilgrimage could contribute to the cause of peace.

Meanwhile, the German government said it was providing Ukraine with more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in additional military aid, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that Berlin wants to show with the latest package of weapons that “Germany is serious about its support” to Ukraine.

“Germany will provide all assistance as long as it is needed,” he said.


— Some Ukrainian units continue to advance near Bakhmut, Ukraine’s ground forces commander said Saturday, just a day after Ukrainian commanders said their troops had retaken territory in the scene of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle. “Our soldiers are advancing in some areas of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” Alexander Sirsky wrote in a Telegram update.

— Russian shelling killed two civilians, including a 15-year-old girl, and wounded 10 others on Saturday in Kostiantynivka, a town 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Bakhmut, the regional prosecutor’s office said in a Telegram post.

— Russian shelling wounded at least seven civilians in southern and northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, regional Ukrainian officials said.

— The shelling also hit the center of the city of Hulyaipoli in the southern Zaporozhye province, and a civilian was injured, said Andriy Yermak, presidential aide.

— Russian forces resumed shelling of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region on Friday and overnight, killing a civilian, local governor Oleh Sinyehubov said on Telegram on Saturday. Four civilians were killed in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region during the same period, Ukrainian Governor Pavlo Kirilenko said on Saturday.

— Overnight, a Russian “massive” barrage damaged an energy facility in Ukraine’s western Khmelnytskyi region, but did not affect power supply, Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said Saturday morning.


Frank Jordans in Berlin, Joanna Kozlowski in London and Nicole Winfield and Gianfranco Stara in Rome contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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