ROME – Ukraine’s Foreign Minister convoked the Vatican ambassador to the country on Thursday to express “profound disappointment” over the pontiff’s words the day before regarding the Aug. 20 killing of Darya Dugina in Moscow by a car bomb.
Dugina, 29 at the time of her death, was a vocal supporter of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist philosopher. Investigators say it’s not yet clear whether Dugina or her father, or perhaps both, were the intended targets. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has accused Ukraine of being responsible for the attack, a charge Ukrainian officials have dismissed, suggesting instead that elements within the FSB itself carried it out.
As part of an appeal for peace in Ukraine at the conclusion of his General Audience on Wednesday, Francis referred to Dugina as an “innocent.”
“I think of that poor girl blown up by a bomb under the seat of her car in Moscow,” the pope said. “Innocents pay the price of war, innocents!”
Those words quickly produced backlash from many Ukrainians, including the country’s ambassador to the Vatican who took to Twitter to express disappointment. In general, some Ukrainians believe the pope too often conflates the aggressors and the victims.
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That reaction was formalized Wednesday when Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba summoned the Vatican’s envoy, Lithuanian Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, to lodge an official protest.
“We have carefully studied the complete quotation of Pope Francis,” Kuleba was quoted as saying, “and, first of all, we have decided to summon the apostolic nuncio to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express Ukraine’s disappointment at his words.”
“I will say frankly that the Ukrainian heart is torn by the Pope’s words. It was unfair,” Kuleba said, adding that a diplomatic note would express that disappointment.
Kuleba also voiced “the hope that, in the future, the Holy See will avoid unjust declarations that cause disappointment in Ukrainian society.”
In a note issued shortly after the meeting, the Foreign Ministry said that “the decision by Pope Francis to mention the death of a Russian citizen on Russian territory, with which Ukraine doesn’t have anything to do, in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, provokes incomprehension.”
“The Foreign Minister of Ukraine also called the attention of the Apostolic Nuncio to the fact that, since the beginning of the invasion by the Russian Federation in Ukraine on a vast scale, the Pontiff has never devoted special attention to the specific victims on the war, including 376 children dead at the hands of the Russian occupiers,” the note said.
In fact, Francis did refer to children suffering as a result of the war during his remarks Wednesday, though once again in a manner expressing compassion for both sides.
“I think of the children, so many dead, and then so many refugees – there are many here in Italy,” he said. “[There are] so many wounded, so many Ukrainian and Russian children who’ve become orphans, and orphanhood doesn’t have a nationality. They’ve lost their fathers and mothers, both Russians and Ukrainians.”
Kuleba announced the decision to summon the papal ambassador Wednesday during a meeting with Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio.
Since the incident, the younger Dugina, who shared her father’s views, quickly has become a martyr figure for Russian nationalists. According to media reports, handbills in Moscow streets feature her image with the caption, “Ours is a just cause! The enemy will be destroyed!”