Ukraine President Asks Pope Francis to Help Free Ukrainian POWs

Pope Francis exchanges gift with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) during a private audience at the Vatican on February 8, 2020. (Photo by Gregorio Borgia / POOL / AFP) (Photo by GREGORIO BORGIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
GREGORIO BORGIA/POOL/AFP via Getty

ROME — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Pope Francis in the Vatican Saturday, during which Zelensky asked the pope to intervene to secure the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

While an official Vatican communiqué said that discussions between the Ukrainian leader and Vatican officials focused on “the humanitarian situation and the quest for peace,” President Volodymyr Zelensky became much more specific in a tweet he sent out to followers in both Ukrainian and Italian.

Praising Pope Francis for “doing all he can to achieve peace and harmony around the world,” Mr. Zelensky added that he had requested the pope’s help “with the release of Ukrainians captured in the Donbass, Crimea and Russia,” inspired by their talk about peace in Ukraine.

“The main thing we talked about was peace. He even called me ‘president of peace,’ and now this is my image in Europe,” Zelensky said after the meeting.

“I’m extremely grateful to His Holiness for the ‘Pope for Ukraine’ initiative that helped 900,000 Ukrainians affected by the conflict in the Donbass,” added Zelensky.

Accompanied by his wife, Olena Zelenska, Mr. Zelensky said he also invited the pontiff to visit Ukraine and that he expects him to come.

“I invited him to Ukraine. I’m sure he’ll be in Ukraine, not just the capital. I said that to fully understand what’s going on in the east, we have to go east,” Zelensky said.

The 42-year-old Zelensky, a former comedian, won a landslide election victory last April, to become the nation’s first Jewish president.

During the photo session following the private meeting, Francis presented Zelensky with a medal of St. Martin of Tours, saying he hoped the saint “will protect your people from war.”

The Vatican enjoys diplomatic relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

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