Pope Francis received thunderous applause on Wednesday as he unfurled and kissed a Ukrainian flag delivered to him from Bucha - the city at the centre of international outrage after images emerged of murdered civilians lying in the streets.
"The recent news about the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, instead attests to new atrocities, such as the Bucha massacre," the Pope said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
"Evermore horrendous cruelties, also perpetrated against defenceless civilians, women and children,” he added. “These are victims whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and begs for mercy.”
Francis then held up the grimy flag, which he said “comes from the war, straight from that battered city Bucha”, and kissed it before blessing a group of Ukrainian children.
The Ukrainian army retook control of Bucha, situated just outside Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew a few days ago. Ukraine says its soldiers found the dead bodies of civilians with their hands bound behind them, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy labelling the killings “war crimes” and “genocide”.
Russia denies the allegations and claims the deaths occurred after its troops pulled out.
During his weekly audience, the Pope also deplored the alleged inaction of international bodies in the face of the Russian aggression.
"After the Second World War, attempts were made to lay the foundations for a new history of peace, but unfortunately the old history of competing great powers continued," he said.
"And in the current war in Ukraine, we are witnessing the powerlessness of international organisations," he added.