Pope Francis shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Pope Francis shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, at the Vatican, on Saturday, May 13, 2023. Image Credit: Vatican Media/via REUTERS

Vatican City: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a private audience with Pope Francis on Saturday where they discussed the need to help "innocent victims" of the conflict, the Vatican said.

During their 40-minute talk, they discussed issues relating to "the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war", a Vatican statement said, without mentioning Russia by name.

The 86-year-old pontiff assured Zelensky "of his constant prayers, witnessed by his many public appeals and continuous invocation to the Lord for peace since February last year", when Russia attacked its neighbour.

"Together they agreed on the need to continue humanitarian efforts to support the population. The pope stressed in particular the urgent need for 'human gestures' towards the most fragile people, innocent victims of the conflict."

Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also met the pope, inviting him to visit Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters while flying home from a trip to Hungary a few days later, the pope confirmed he wanted to help.

Shmyhal also said they had discussed Zelensky's plan for peace and "the different steps the Vatican could take" to help Kyiv achieve its goals.

In his press conference, Francis said he was willing to do everything necessary for peace in Ukraine, adding: "A mission is under way, but it isn't yet public."

Both Kyiv and Moscow said they know nothing about such a mission.

Zelensky also met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during his visit to Rome, which will be followed by a visit on Sunday to Berlin.