Ukraine risks becoming ‘forgotten war’, Pope Francis says

January 12, 2024 - 2:03 PM
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Pope Francis holds a weekly general audience at the Vatican, January 10, 2024. (Vatican Media/­Handout via Reuters)

Pope Francis is concerned that international attention is shifting away from the nearly two-year-old Russian war against Ukraine, the Ukrainian eastern-rite Catholic Church said on Wednesday.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the two sides are locked in what has been described as a war of attrition, amid concerns that Western support for Kyiv may falter as the conflict drags on.

In a letter to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Francis said he was sorry that “in an increasingly tragic international situation, the war in Ukraine risks becoming a forgotten one,” the church said in a statement.

It quoted the pope as replying to a letter from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk that raised similar concerns about the war, and informed him on Dec. 29 of Russian air strikes, the biggest since the start of the conflict.

Francis said strikes on civilians and vital infrastructure were “vile, unacceptable and cannot be justified in any way”, and urged the international community and all involved in the conflict to seek peaceful solutions, according to the statement.

The pope has pleaded for peace constantly, with numerous appeals for “martyred Ukraine”, but has faced criticism in some Ukrainian quarters for appearing reluctant to openly criticize Russia, especially at the start of the war.

Francis has also sent a special peace envoy, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, to Kyiv, Moscow, Washington and Beijing, and tasked him with helping repatriate Ukrainian children from Russia and Russian-occupied territories.

Russia has said it is ready for peace talks if Ukraine takes account of “new realities”, suggesting an acknowledgement that Russia controls about 17.5% of Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has rejected any notion that Moscow is interested in talks.

— Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Ros Russell