Breaking a tradition of neutrality, Francis has condemned the attacks by the Russian military and declared a day of fasting and prayer for the people of Ukraine.
Speaking to over 1 billion Catholics around the world on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis also honoured Father Marek Viktor Gongalo, the Polish-Ukrainian translator on the stage with him, who has family stuck in Ukraine.
“His parents are now in underground shelters to protect themselves from the bombs in a place near Kyiv,” Francis said. “By accompanying him, we accompany all the people who are suffering from the bombings, including his elderly parents and so many other elderly who are in underground shelters defending themselves.” He added: “Let us remember these people in our hearts.”
Kyiv residents have been sheltering in underground bunkers and metro stations since Russia invaded their country last Thursday. More than 500,000 Ukrainians have fled the fighting over the past six days.
Francis went on to thank Poland for taking in a bulk of the refugees. “You were the first to support Ukraine, opening your borders, your hearts and the doors of your homes to Ukrainians fleeing war,” he said. “You are generously offering them everything they need to live in dignity, despite the drama of the moment. I am deeply grateful to you, and I bless you from my heart.” He called for humanitarian corridors to help refugees leave safely and said that those who create war should not think God is on their side.
Last Friday, the pope visited the Russian Embassy in Rome to convey his concerns over the conflict.