By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – Ukraine would expect Russia to suspend hostilities during an eventual papal visit to Kyiv, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican told Reuters on Thursday.
Ambassador Andriy Yurash spoke hours after he met Pope Francis and top Vatican officials to formally present his credentials.
“We discussed many things on the agenda right now, first of all the possible visit of His Holiness to Ukraine,” Yurash said in an interview on the sidelines of a diplomatic event in Rome.
“I gave more arguments as to why it has to be realised as quickly as possible and exactly in these circumstances,” he said.
Francis told reporters during a visit to Malta at the weekend that he was considering a trip to Kyiv to make a peace appeal there. Francis said a trip was “on the table.”
Francis has been invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Ukraine’s Byzantine-rite Catholic Church.
“If Russia will understand that the pope will go to Ukraine, Russia will stop the bombing at least for sure in this central and northern part, it is for sure,” Yurash said.
He said he came away from his meetings at the Vatican with a sense that “there is a lot of internal spiritual desire (to make the trip)” but with no commitment.
Yurash said he understood that Russia was putting pressure on the Vatican for the pope not to make a trip but did not say where his information came from.
“It is becoming more and more understandable for everybody and for the pope as well that the possible positive response to this challenge to visit Ukraine is becoming more and more vital in terms of helping Ukraine (to stop the war),” he said.
During the trip to Malta, Francis implicitly criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion, saying a “potentate” was fomenting conflict for nationalist interests.
Since the invasion started Francis has only mentioned Russia specifically in prayers, such as during a special global event for peace on March 25, but he has referred to Russia by using terms such as invasion and aggression.
On Wednesday he condemned “the massacre of Bucha” and kissed a Ukrainian flag sent from the town where tied bodies shot at close range littered the streets after Russian troops withdrew and bodies poked out of a mass grave at a church.
The Kremlin says allegations Russian forces committed war crimes by executing civilians including in Bucha were a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating the Russian army.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Matthew Lewis)