Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Rome for talks with the Pope and Italian leaders in his first visit to the EU and NATO nation since Russia's full-scale invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, saying it was a great honour to meet with the pontiff, who has previously offered to do what he can to try to end the war launched by Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
Zelenskyy held his hand on his heart as the pope, using a cane, came to greet him before ushering the Ukrainian into a papal studio near the Vatican's audience call. "Thank you for your visit,'' Francis said, as their 40-minute-long meeting began.
Zelenskyy arrived at a military airfield at Rome’s Ciampino airport, state broadcaster RAI reported. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani was on hand to greet him, the ANSA news agency said.
Shortly afterwards, Zelenskyy met with President Sergio Mattarella. The meeting with Mattarella at the presidential Quirinale Palace was the first official appointment of what is expected to be a visit to the Italian capital lasting several hours.
Later he met Giorgia Meloni at Chigi Palace, the Italian Prime Minister's official residence.
Since the war began, Italy has furnished about €1 billion in military and financial aid, as well as humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy and the Pope
"The pope assured his constant prayer, paid witness to by his many public appeals and by his continued invoking of the Lord for peace, since February of last year,'' the Vatican said, a reference to the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by Russia's military.
“Both agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts” to help the population. “The pope underlined, in particular, the urgent need for ‘humanitarian gestures’ toward the most fragile persons, innocent victims of the conflict," the statement said.
Last month, Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, met with Francis at the Vatican and said he asked the pontiff to help Ukraine get back children illegally taken to Russia during the invasion.
Saturday's communiqué from the Vatican made no mention of that, and there were no immediate details from Zelenskyy's side about his meeting with the pontiff.
Ahead of Zelenskyy's arrival in the late afternoon, police moved tourists to one side of St. Peter's Square so the Ukrainian president's motorcade could speed across the vast cobblestone space.
President Zelenskyy is believed to be heading to Berlin after his meeting with Pope Francis.