ROME – As the war in Ukraine wages on, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher, is planning to visit Kyiv next week, where he is expected to hold top level meetings.

According to a source familiar with the visit, Gallagher’s trip to Kyiv was “recently confirmed,” and while there are few details about the official schedule and list of meetings, Gallagher is expected to meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba next Friday, May 20.

The trip comes as Russian and Ukrainian troops are embroiled in a violent conflict that began with Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Thousands have been killed so far in the carnage, including hundreds of children, and millions have either fled abroad as refugees or are internally displaced. Charity organizations are scrambling to gather aid and get it to those trapped in conflict areas.

Pope Francis has been invited to visit Kyiv multiple times by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See Andrii Yurash in a bid to stop the violence.

Francis signaled an openness to go, telling journalists on board the papal plane returning from Malta last month, that a visit to Ukraine was “on the table.”

Doubt has been cast on the likelihood of a papal visit to Ukraine in recent weeks due to the pope’s ongoing struggles with knee pain, and because of several public statements made by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in support of the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relentless siege of strategic Ukrainian cities.

In a recent interview, Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin said a papal visit to Ukraine is still being discussed, “but its fulfillment is conditioned on the possibility of favoring a real improvement of the situation in the country.”

“A trip would make no sense if, the next day, the war resumed as before,” he said.

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Gallagher’s visit to Ukraine has reportedly been in the planning for months, since before the current war began. He was initially planning to visit before Easter, but tested positive for COVID-19, and the trip was postponed.

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Francis has previously sent two cardinals – his almoner, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, and the new prefect of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development, Canadian Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny – to border countries near Ukraine to support fleeing refugees.

However, Gallagher’s presence in Kyiv amid the current circumstances signals the pope’s keen interest in the peace process, and will undoubtedly be interpreted at the geopolitical level as a statement on where the Holy See’s sympathies lie in the current conflict, despite the fact that Pope Francis has yet to publicly name Putin or Russia as the aggressor.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen