Ukraine war: Zelensky calls on Pope Francis to clearly condemn Russia in Vatican meeting

Vatican City – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Pope Francis to more clearly condemn Russia, following a meeting with the pontiff in the Vatican amid the ongoing Ukraine war.

Pope Francis (l.) meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Vatican on Saturday.
Pope Francis (l.) meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Vatican on Saturday.  © via REUTERS

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met Italian leaders and Pope Francis during a visit to Rome on Saturday, as part of a weekend trip abroad that will also take him to Germany. It is the first time the two leaders have met since the war began.

"I'm grateful for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians," Zelensky wrote on Twitter. "I spoke about tens of thousands of deported children."

"In addition, I asked [Pope Francis] to condemn Russian crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor."

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Francis has repeatedly drawn criticism from the Ukrainian side since the Russian invasion last year as he tried to avoid directly addressing or condemning the warring parties.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also pledged support to Ukraine in its war against Russia "for as long as necessary and beyond," as she met the Ukrainian leader, whom she referred to as her "friend."

Kyiv must be placed in a strong position for negotiations with Russia "because peace cannot follow capitulation, that would be a dangerous peace for Europe," Meloni said.

Meloni underlined that she strongly supports Ukraine's bid to join the European Union. Kyiv is not only fighting for itself, but also for the rest of Europe, "for all of us."

Ukraine hopes to start concrete EU accession negotiations this year.

Italy stands in support of Ukraine upon Zelensky visit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (r.) met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday for the first time since the Ukraine War started.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (r.) met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday for the first time since the Ukraine War started.  © via REUTERS

Zelensky thanked Italy for its support during the trip. He said he was moved by the many Ukrainian flags he saw on the streets of Rome.

Shortly afterwards, Zelensky was driven to the Vatican, where he met Pope Francis. The meeting was a "great honor," he told Francis.

Francis has in the past year repeatedly emphasized that he wanted to take every opportunity to promote peace in Ukraine, and has often spoken of the suffering of the Ukrainian people, although some have criticized him for not naming Russia as the aggressor clearly enough.

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After his morning arrival in Rome on an Italian government plane from Poland, Zelensky was first driven to the Quirinal Palace, President Sergio Mattarella's official residence.

After the anthems of the two states were played, the politicians went into the building for a private conversation.

The trip to Italy is an "important visit for [the] approaching victory of Ukraine!" Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

The Ukrainian leader was expected to appeal for further Western aid during his visit.

Zelensky is being accompanied during his visit by the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak.

It was earlier confirmed for the first time that Zelensky would travel on to Germany, although it was unclear whether this would happen on Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are due to be awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize in the western city of Aachen on Sunday. The German government announced a massive new military aid package for Ukraine on Saturday, including dozens of armored vehicles and tanks as well as air defense missiles and artillery ammunition.

In Rome, extraordinary security measures were in place ahead of Zelensky's arrival. Around 1,500 police and security personnel were deployed on Saturday to ensure that the state visit runs smoothly.

Special security checks were in place at airports, railway stations and the metro. A no-fly zone was set up over the city, including for drones, and snipers have been positioned everywhere that Zelensky is expected to visit.

Ukrainians living in Italy gathered in the well-known Piazza Barberini in the center of Rome in anticipation of Zelensky's arrival. Despite the rain, they sang the Ukrainian national anthem together.

"We want to tell the president that we are with him," the head of the Christian Association of Ukrainians in Italy, Oles Horodetskyy, said on Italian television. They are confident that "Ukraine will send away the invaders to create a just peace."

Cover photo: via REUTERS

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