The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church thanked Pope Francis for publicly voicing concern about the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine and the increased presence of Russian troops on border.

In an interview with Vatican News April 20, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said he wanted to express “profound gratitude for the Holy Father for his prayer and for his support to the suffering people of Ukraine.”

“We are truly grateful to the Holy Father above all for his empathy and his prayer for Ukraine, for our people who are in such sorrow because once again, we are living in a moment of great fear,” he said.

After praying the “Regina Coeli” prayer April 18, the pope expressed his “deep concern” about violations of the cease-fire and about increased military activity in the region.

“Please, I firmly hope that the increase of tensions may be avoided and, on the contrary, gestures may be made that are capable of promoting mutual trust and fostering reconciliation and peace, so necessary and so desired,” the pope said.

Leading pilgrims in praying the “Hail Mary” for Ukraine, the pope called on Christians to “keep at heart the grave humanitarian situation being experienced by that population, to whom I express my closeness and for whom I invite you to pray.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba April 20 urged the international community to intervene and warned that Russia could soon have more than 120,000 troops on the country’s eastern border, the Reuters news agency reported.

Russian-backed separatists have been battling government forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014, which has led to a humanitarian crisis in the region that has only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shevchuk told Vatican News.

“People are trapped in this area,” he said. “The contagion is growing, the possibility of sending humanitarian aid, especially medicine and food to cover the basic needs of these people, is almost impossible.”

The addition of a possible military clash, he added, “from a humanitarian point of view, would be a tragedy for these people who really feel forgotten, exploited and frightened.”

Echoing the pope’s call for peace, Shevchuk appealed for an end to the conflict and called for Russian troops to withdraw so that the Ukrainian people “can live with dignity and receive the help they need.”

“No to war! Lay down your weapons!” the archbishop exclaimed. “As Pope Francis said, with war you gain nothing but lose everything. Let reason, dialogue, including diplomatic dialogue, prevail over the temptation to use weapons to solve any problem from the international political point of view.”