Pope Francis and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have discussed the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war, according to a statement from the Holy See. During a 40-minute meeting, they discussed the need to continue humanitarian efforts to support the population affected by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by Russia last year. The Pope emphasised the urgent need to help “the most fragile people, innocent victims” of the conflict. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni reiterated support for a united Ukraine during a meeting with President Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader had talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella before the working lunch with Meloni. Over 1,000 police were deployed, and a no-fly zone was implemented over Rome.
The Pope has assured President Zelensky of his constant prayers and continuous invocation to the Lord for peace since last February when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion. Pope Francis has previously stated that the Vatican was ready to act as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and is working on a peace plan to end the war. Ukraine’s relationship with the Vatican has been uneasy at times. A few months after the war in Ukraine began, the Pope commented in an interview that Moscow’s invasion was “perhaps somehow provoked”.
Earlier on Saturday, President Zelensky met with Ms Meloni and invited “all the Italian political leaders and representatives of civil society” to visit Ukraine to see first-hand the effects of the war. Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican criticised the Pope last August after he referred to Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist figure killed by a car bomb, as an “innocent” victim of the conflict. Meanwhile, Germany unveiled its largest military aid package for Ukraine yet, worth €2.7bn (£2.4bn).
The Ukrainian President’s visit came as Russia carried out a new wave of air strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities overnight, with more than 20 people injured in the western city of Khmelnytsky. Critical infrastructure, homes, and government buildings were also hit. Explosions were reported in the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk, about 56 miles behind the front line in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatist forces in the region accused Kyiv of using Storm Shadow missiles, which the UK said it had supplied Ukraine with earlier last week. There were also reports of blasts in Luhansk on Saturday.
Despite Italy’s historic strong ties with Moscow, Meloni stressed that the war would only end when Russia stops its “brutal and unjust aggression” and withdraws from all Ukrainian territory. She also pledged Italy’s support for Ukraine for “as long as necessary”. The German government’s record aid package for Ukraine indicates that Russia is “bound to lose and sit on the bench of historical shame”, according to Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelensky. It was reported earlier this week that President Zelensky is planning to visit Germany following his trip to Italy, although it is yet to be confirmed.
In other news, a helicopter crashed in Russia’s Bryansk region on the border with Ukraine, injuring one woman. Videos circulating on social media appear to show an S-24 warplane crashing in the region on Saturday, although the footage has not been verified.