Ukraine’s Prime Minister asked Pope Francis on Thursday to help in efforts to return abducted children from Russia.
“I asked His Holiness to help us return home Ukrainians, Ukrainian children who are detained, arrested, and criminally deported to Russia,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told reporters after his half-hour, face-to-face meeting with the Pontiff.
Last month, the International Criminal Court at The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to his alleged involvement in the abduction of Ukrainian children.
In a March 17 statement the ICC said Putin is “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of [children] and that of unlawful transfer of [children] from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”
A brief statement after the Pope’s meeting with Shmyhal did not go into the details of their conversation. It did note that the Ukrainian Prime Minister met with the Holy See’s Secretary of State and Foreign Minister after the meeting for “cordial discussions” about “various matters connected to the war in Ukraine…with particular attention to the humanitarian aspects and efforts to restore peace.”
Pope Francis has denounced the war repeatedly over the past 14 months since Russia first invaded its sovereign neighbor.
“Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia,” Francis said on Easter Sunday. “Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families.”
Some of the children who’ve been returned to Ukraine have said they were lied to by Russian authorities, were “treated like animals” and told their parents no longer wanted them.
Russia has denied any wrongdoing in the taking of Ukrainian children, claiming they were removed from their homes and taken across the border for their safety.