Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, later saying he sought support for Ukraine’s peace plan from the pontiff, who has in the past offered to try to help the pontiff end it. Full scale war Launched by Russia a year ago.
Zelensky clutched his hand over his heart and said it was a “great honor” to meet the pope. Francis, using a cane for his knee problems, arrived to greet the Ukrainian president before entering a papal studio near the Vatican’s audience hall.
In a tweet after the 40 Minutes audience, Zelensky expressed gratitude to Francis “for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians.” He said he spoke with the pontiff about “thousands of deported (Ukrainian) children. We must make every effort to return them to their country.”
Zelensky also said that he Pope asked to condemn Russian “crimes in Ukraine” because “there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor.”
“I also call our peace formula the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace,” Zelensky said. The war is in Ukraine, so Ukraine must have a plan to bring peace.
Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal asked the Pope to help bring children from Russia back to Ukraine. But the Vatican statement on Saturday made no mention of the request.
Instead, the Vatican said the two men spoke about the “humanitarian and political situation provoked by the ongoing war” in Ukraine.
“The Pope assured his constant prayers, testified by his many public appeals since February last year and by his constant call to the Lord for peace,” the Vatican said, a reference to the Russian offensive that began on February 24. 2022.
The meeting was held after the Russian Defense Ministry talked about the Storm Shadow long-range cruise missile Delivered to Ukraine The United Kingdom this week damaged unspecified civilian enterprises in Ukraine’s far-eastern Luhansk province. Luhansk authorities said separately that an elderly woman was wounded in another missile attack in the regional capital.
Two Russian Mi-8 helicopters and an Su-34 fighter-bomber crashed Saturday in the Bryansk region on the border with Ukraine, state news agency Tass and a Telegram channel close to Russia’s defense ministry said; The Kommersant newspaper cited reports that two fighter planes had crashed. The cause of the crash was not immediately released, but concerns are growing over cross-border attacks from Ukraine in Bryansk.
Some Ukrainian units are about to advance near Bakhmut, Ukraine’s ground forces commander said Saturday, as Ukrainian commanders said their troops had retaken territory from the scene of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle.
“Our troops are advancing in some sectors of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower,” Oleksandr Sirsky said in a telegram.
Zelensky’s 10-point plan would establish a special tribunal to try Russian war crimes. It would create a Euro-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine, restore Ukraine’s damaged electricity infrastructure and ensure security around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia.
Earlier in the day, Zelensky received open-ended military and financial aid pledges from Italian officials, as well as strong support for Ukraine’s cherished goal of joining the European Union.
“The message is clear and simple,” said Premier Georgia Meloni after a meeting with Zelenskiy that lasted more than an hour. “The future of Ukraine is the future of peace and freedom. And it is the future of Europe, the future of peace and freedom, for which there is no other possible solution.”
The prime minister, who strongly supports military aid for Ukraine, said Italy would support the country “360 degrees for the period of need and for the next period.”
Separately, Italian President Sergio Mattarella told Zelenskiy, “We are completely on your side,” Mattarella said as he welcomed Zelenskiy. Later, presidential palace sources said Mattarella assured his guest that Italy would support Ukraine militarily and financially, as well as with reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
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 believed to be heading to Berlin next for his first visit to Germany since the outbreak of war. The exact schedule has not been publicly announced due to security concerns.
In late April, Francis told reporters that the Vatican was involved in a peace mission behind the scenes but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has confirmed such an initiative.
He has said he would like to visit Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, if such a visit could be combined with Moscow, hoping that a papal pilgrimage could lead to peace.
Speculation is rife as to whether the Vatican may play a mediating role. But in an Italian TV interview on Saturday, Zelensky indicated that mediation in general would be impossible.
“You cannot mediate with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said.
Meanwhile, the German government said it was providing additional military aid worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) to Ukraine, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin wanted to show with the latest weapons package that “Germany is serious about supporting Ukraine”.
“Germany will provide all kinds of help as long as it takes,” he said.