Zelenskyy from Ukraine meets with Pope Francis in Rome

Zelenskyy from Ukraine meets with Pope Francis in Rome – BBC

  • By Sofia Bettiza in Rome and Laura Gozzi in London
  • BBC News

May 13, 2023 at 10:02 AM BST

Updated 15 minutes ago

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President Zelenskyy arrived in Rome on Saturday morning as part of a huge security operation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Rome, where he meets political leaders ahead of an audience with Pope Francis.

“An important visit for Ukraine’s upcoming victory!” he tweeted as he landed in the Italian capital.

He met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella and will travel to the Vatican later on Saturday.

A huge security operation was launched, with more than 1,000 police officers deployed and a no-fly zone over Rome.

President Zelenskyi held a private meeting with his counterpart Mattarella and then had a working lunch with Prime Minister Meloni.

Historically, Italy has close ties with Moscow.

Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the conservative Forza Italia party, is an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They went on trips together and exchanged birthday presents.

Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, has frequently expressed pro-Russian sentiments and criticized military aid to Ukraine. President Zelenskyy is not expected to meet either Mr Salvini or Mr Berlusconi during his trip.

Pope Francis has often said that the Vatican is ready to mediate in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Earlier this month he said the Vatican was working on a peace plan to end the war and said the mission “is not yet public. If it’s public, I’ll talk about it.”

But relations between Ukraine and the Vatican have sometimes been uneasy.

Last August, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican took the unusual step of criticizing the pope after he called Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist who was killed by a car bomb, an “innocent” war victim.

On Saturday, President Zelenskyy and Pope Francis will meet for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The couple met in 2020.

Meanwhile, the German government unveiled its biggest-ever military aid package to Ukraine, worth €2.7 billion (£2.4 billion). Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelenskyy, said the aid shows that Russia “will definitely lose and sit on the bench of historical shame”.

Earlier this week, German media reported that President Zelenskyi was planning a visit to Germany following his trip to Italy, although this has not yet been confirmed.

  • President Zelenskyy’s visit comes after Russia launched a fresh wave of airstrikes on Kiev and other Ukrainian cities overnight
  • More than 20 people were injured in the western city of Khmelnytskyi. Critical infrastructure as well as residential and government buildings were also affected
  • Explosions were reported on Friday in the Russian-held city of Luhansk, some 90 km (56 miles) behind the front line in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatist forces in the region have accused Kiev of using Storm Shadow missiles, which the UK said it had delivered to Ukraine earlier in the week
  • Also on Saturday there were further reports of explosions in Luhansk
  • A woman was injured in a helicopter crash in Russia’s Bryansk region on the border with Ukraine. Footage circulating on social media is said to show that an S-24 fighter jet also crashed in the region on Saturday – although the videos have not been verified.