Pope Francis echoes outrage over killings in Ukraine: ‘Put an end to this war!’

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April 6 (UPI) — Pope Francis on Wednesday echoed global concern and outrage over the atrocities that have emerged over the past few days from a suburb of Kyiv in Ukraine, where officials say that Russian forces massacred civilians on a large scale.

During his weekly audience at the Vatican, Francis decried the violence against civilians in Bucha and again called for Russia to stop the hostilities in the former Soviet republic, which are about to enter their seventh week.

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Last weekend, images from Bucha showed hundreds of dead civilians that were found by Ukrainian forces after they retook the area from Russian troops. Some had been tied and shot and others blindfolded. The images have drawn strong outrage and condemnation worldwide for the degree of their brutality.

“The recent news of the war in Ukraine, rather than bringing relief and hope, attests instead of new atrocities, like the massacre in Bucha — ever more horrendous cruelty done even against defenseless civilians, women and children,” he said.

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“They are victims whose innocent blood cries to heaven and implores — put an end to this war! Silence the weapons. Stop sowing death and destruction. Let us pray together for this.”

Graves with the bodies of dead civilians are seen in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, on Monday. Residents of Bucha said Russian forces killed dozens of civilians before they left the city. Photo by Vladyslav Musienko/UPI

Ukrainian officials have said there is evidence that civilians had been tortured and killed while under Russian occupation — accusations that, not surprisingly, Moscow has denied. Available evidence, however, is at odds with the Russian denials.

During the weekly audience, Francis also made a strong show of emotion — kissing a flag that had come from Bucha, which he called the “martyred city.”

“[Tuesday], precisely from Bucha, they brought me this flag. This flag comes from the war, precisely from that war-torn city, Bucha,” the pope added. “There are also some Ukrainian children who are here with us. Let us greet them and pray together with them.

“These children had to escape and come to a foreign land: this is one of the fruits of war. Let us not forget them, and let us not forget the Ukrainian people. It is hard to be uprooted from your own land due to war.”

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Francis also said the war in Ukraine is an “old story of competition between the greater [national] powers” that have gone on since World War II — and that it demonstrates “impotence of international organizations” such as the United Nations.

The U.N. Security Council met on Tuesday to address Russia’s bloody campaign in Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24. At the session, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Russia and Kremlin President Vladimir Putin. Zelensky challenged the council to do something to end the violence, echoing the pope’s remarks.

“Are you ready to close the U.N.?” he asked the Security Council. “Do you think that the time of international law is gone? If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately.”

Ukrainian service members stand beside a damaged building in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo