ROME – As Pope Francis’s emissary to Ukraine closed a two-day trip to Kyiv for talks on a possible ceasefire with Russia, Ukrainian authorities voiced gratitude for the visit but insisted on following their own peace plan.
From June 5-6, Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the purpose, according to a Vatican statement, of holding “in-depth” listening sessions with Ukrainian authorities on “possible ways to achieve a just peace” and to support “gestures of humanity” that help ease tensions on the ground.
In a June 5 tweet on Zuppi’s visit, Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See Andrii Yurash said Ukraine welcomed the Vatican’s interest in “the bloody war started by Russia,” as well as the Holy See’s intention to “understand deeply [the] realities” of the war.
An up-close look at the war and its consequences, he said, will “help for sure in finding appropriate answers in [the] name of just peace.”
Zuppi, who has experience as a conflict negotiator, having helped the Vatican negotiate the Mozambique peace accords in 1992 through the Community of Sant’Egidio to which he belongs, closed his visit to Kyiv Tuesday.
A June 6 Vatican statement described Zuppi’s visit as “brief but intense,” saying he was accompanied by a representative of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and, in addition to his meetings with national leaders, was able to visit the ancient Ukrainian cathedral of Santa Sophia for a moment of prayer.
The Vatican said that Zuppi will inform the pope about the results of his meetings with state and religious leaders, as well as his “direct experience of the atrocious suffering of the Ukrainian people due to the ongoing war.”
These conversations, the Vatican said, “will certainly be useful for evaluating the steps to continue taking both on a humanitarian level and in the search for paths of a just and lasting peace.”
Pope Francis initially hinted that he was planning a peace mission to Ukraine on his return flight from Hungary earlier this year, and last month it was announced that Zuppi would serve as his official envoy.
Zuppi’s visit to Ukraine came nearly one month after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself met with Pope Francis at the Vatican during a whirlwind trip to Italy to foster support for Ukraine’s military defense.
At the time, Zelenskyy thanked Pope Francis for his interest but appeared to decline the Vatican’s offer of mediating negotiations, saying on a popular Italian news program that, “We do not need mediators, we need a just peace … Putin only kills. We don’t need a mediation with him.”
Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian authorities appeared to maintain that position this week.
A June 6 statement from Zelenkyy’s office following Zuppi’s visit said the two discussed both the war and the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, as well as various ways Ukraine and the Holy See can collaborate “in the framework of the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula.”
Zelenskyy has spent the better part of this year seeking international support of this 10-point peace plan, which includes restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the release of Ukrainian prisoners, a tribunal to try Russian war crimes, and greater Euro-Atlantic security measures, among other things.
He has also been pushing G7 leaders to support a global peace summit focusing on the Ukrainian peace plan, either in part or as a whole.
In Tuesday’s statement, Zelenskyy’s office pointed to the recent destruction of the Kakhovka HPP dam by Russian military, calling it a crime that “poses enormous threats and will have terrible consequences for people’s lives and the environment.”
Zelenskyy, according to the statement, in his meeting with Zuppi stressed that a mere ceasefire or freezing of the conflict would not lead to peace.
“The enemy will take advantage of the pause to build up its capabilities and further attack, to conduct a new wave of crimes and terror. Russia must withdraw all its troops from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” he said.
He insisted that united international efforts, including increased diplomatic isolation and pressure on Russia, is the only strategy for achieving a “just peace” in Ukraine.
Zuppi and Zelenskyy discussed the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula and “the need to involve the widest possible range of countries” in Zelenskyy’s proposed Global Peace Summit, with an emphasis on the global south.
Zelenskyy urged the Holy See to support Ukraine’s peace plan, saying Ukraine welcomes “the readiness of other states and partners to find ways to peace, but as the war continues on the territory of Ukraine, the algorithm for achieving peace can be Ukrainian only.”
He stressed the role the Holy See can play, as it has in the past, in securing the release of Ukrainian prisoners and assisting in the return of Ukrainian children deported to Russia, as well as the restoration of “a just peace.”
According to the statement, Zuppi conveyed the pope’s solidarity and assured them of the Vatican’s willingness to support humanitarian initiatives. He also passed along a letter from Pope Francis to Zelenskyy.
In a June 6 tweet, Yurash called the meeting between Zelenskyy and Zuppi an “important point in relations” between Ukraine and the Vatican, saying, “Ukrainian Peace Formula and achievement of the just peace have been in the center of communication.”
Rumors have circulated saying that Zuppi will also make a visit to Moscow to engage Russian authorities on the pursuit of peace. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agency TASS Monday, however, as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin currently has no plans to meet Zuppi.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen