Pope Francis has come the closest yet to implicitly criticising President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying a “potentate” — an autocratic ruler — was fomenting conflicts for nationalist interests.
- During a trip to Malta, Pope Francis indirectly criticised Russia’s president
- The Pope says a possible trip to Kyiv is on the table
- A Red Cross envoy is attempting to reach Mariupol through one of seven humanitarian corridors on Saturday
In Malta for a two-day visit following his apology to Indigenous people who suffered abuse in Canada’s residential schools, the Pope spoke of “dark shadows of war” spreading across Europe.
“We had thought that invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats were grim memories of a distant past,” he said in an address to Maltese officials.
“However, the icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all.
Pope Francis has already strongly condemned what he has called an “unjustified aggression” and denounced “atrocities” in the war.
But he has only referred to Russia directly in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25.
“Now, in the night of the war that is fallen upon humanity, let us not allow the dream of peace to fade!” he said on Saturday.
Earlier, Francis said he was considering a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Asked by a reporter on the plane taking him from Rome to Malta if he was considering an invitation made by Ukrainian political and religious authorities, the Pope answered: “Yes, it is on the table”, without giving details.
Francis has been invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine’s Byzantine-rite Catholic Church and Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, Andriy Yurash.
He has spoken on the phone with Mr Zelenskyy and Mr Shevchuk.
Calls for global arrest warrant for Putin
The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for the Mr Putin.
“Putin is a war criminal,” Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published on Saturday.
The Swiss lawyer who oversaw ICC war crimes investigations in Rwanda, Syria and the former Yugoslavia said there were clear war crimes being committed in Ukraine.
She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves in Russia’s war on Ukraine, which recalls the worst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.
“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the Swiss newspaper Blick.
She said the investigation in Ukraine would be easier than that in Yugoslavia because the country itself had requested an international probe.
If the ICC finds proof of war crimes, she said, “you must go up the chain of command until you reach those who took the decisions.”
Plans for fresh Mariupol evacuation efforts
Meanwhile, a Red Cross convoy will try again to evacuate civilians from the besieged port of Mariupol on Saturday as Russian forces looked to be regrouping for new attacks in south-east Ukraine.
Encircled since the early days of Russia’s five-week old invasion, Mariupol has been Moscow’s main target in Ukraine’s south-eastern region of Donbas.
Tens of thousands are trapped with scant access to food and water.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sent a team on Friday to lead a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and other private vehicles out of the city, but they turned back, saying conditions made it impossible to proceed.
A previous Red Cross evacuation attempt in early March failed.
An advisor to the Ukrainian president said he was hopeful about the Mariupol evacuations.
Russia and Ukraine have agreed to humanitarian corridors during the war to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from cities, but have often traded blame when the corridors have not been successful.
Seven such corridors were planned for Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, including one for people evacuating by private transport from Mariupol and by buses for Mariupol residents out of the city of Berdyansk.
After failing to take a major Ukrainian city since it launched the invasion, Russia says it has shifted its focus to the south-east, where it has backed separatists since 2014.
In an early morning video address, Mr Zelenskyy said Russian troops had moved toward Donbas and the heavily bombarded north-eastern city of Kharkiv.
Death toll from Mykolaiv air strike rises
At least 33 people were killed and 34 injured in last Tuesday’s Russian rocket strike on the regional government building in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian officials gave the latest death toll in a statement Saturday, updating the numbers of the deadly strike that hit Mykolaiv.
Rescuers sent by the State Emergency Service have been searching the wreckage for survivors since Russian forces struck the building, which housed the office of regional governor Vitaliy Kim.
The governor, who was not on the premises at the time of the attack, later posted social media images showing a gaping hole in the nine-story structure.
The confirmed death toll has risen steadily as the search and rescue operation continues.
Mykolaiv, a strategically important city en route to Ukraine’s largest port of Odesa, has withstood weeks of shelling by the Russian forces.