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Kyiv slams Pope’s ‘white flag’ call, vows no surrender to Russia

People waved Ukrainian flags on St Peter's square during Pope Francis's Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican
People waved Ukrainian flags on St Peter's square during Pope Francis's Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican - Copyright AFP AHMAD GHARABLI
People waved Ukrainian flags on St Peter's square during Pope Francis's Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican - Copyright AFP AHMAD GHARABLI

Ukraine on Sunday angrily rejected Pope Francis’s call to negotiate with Russia two years into its invasion, vowing “never” to surrender after the pontiff said Kyiv should “have the courage to raise the white flag”.

The row over his comments came as officials in Ukraine said Russian shelling in the east had killed three people Sunday. A strike on a residential building in the eastern town of Myrnograd wounded a dozen more people, said Kyiv.

Ukraine also said Moscow launched missile attacks on the northeastern Kharkiv region and sent attack drones across the centre and south of the country.

Russia, meanwhile, said one woman was killed in Ukrainian shelling of a border village.

The pope’s comments this weekend fuelled anger in Kyiv this weekend after he said in an interview that Ukraine should negotiate with Russia, which has seized large swathes of its territory in the offensive. 

“Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

He was responding to the Pope’s interview to Swiss broadcaster RTS in which the Catholic leader raised the prospect of surrender — two years after Kyiv has battled Russian forces on its territory. 

“I believe that the strongest are those who see the situation, think about the people, and have the courage to raise the white flag and negotiate,” Pope Francis said in an interview conducted in early February and broadcast on Saturday. 

Ukrainian officials compared the statement to some of the Catholic church collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II.

“At the same time, when it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican strategy from the first half of the 20th century,” Kuleba said, calling on the Holy See to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past”.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Vatican, Andrii Yurash, went further, comparing the Pope’s negotiation suggestion to talking to Adolf Hitler: 

“(The) lesson is only one — if we want to finish war, we have to do everything to kill (the) Dragon!,” he said on social media. 

After the interview aired, Francis offered fresh prayers for “martyred Ukraine”, as Vatican officials said his call was simply intended to end fierce fighting.

– Kyiv hopes Francis will visit –

Some Western diplomats joined the criticism.

“Russia is the aggressor and breaks international law! Therefore Germany asks Moscow to stop the war, not Kyiv!”, said Bernhard Kotsch, Germany’s envoy to the Vatican.

Kuleba said Kyiv hoped Francis would visit his war-torn country after more than two years of battling its bigger neighbour. 

In Ukraine itself, officials reported the latest deaths.

“Three people died as a result of today’s shelling in the Donetsk region,” said the head of the embattled region, Vadym Filashkin, on social media. 

He said rescuers pulled out two bodies “from under the rubble of a house” in the town of Dobropillya, which he said Russia attacked with Iranian-made Shahed drones at night. 

A 66-year-old man was also killed in the frontline town of Chasiv Yar, Filashkin said.

Further south, a Russian night-time strike on the east Ukrainian town of Myrnograd wounded a dozen people, Kyiv said. Myrnograd lies in the Donetsk region around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the frontline with Russian forces.

Kyiv also said it had shot down more than two dozen Iranian-made Shahed attack drones launched by Russia across central and southern regions, including the Kyiv region.

Russia on Sunday said Ukrainian shelling killed a woman in the border village of Kulbaki, 10 kilometres (six miles) from Ukraine in the Kursk region. 

“As a result of a direct hit from a shell, a residential building caught fire and a local woman died. Her husband had extensive burns and is now receiving qualified medical care,” Kursk governor Roman Starovoyt said. 

In Moscow-occupied Ukraine, Russian-installed official Denis Pushilin said Kyiv had shelled a bread factory at night in the city of Gorlovka, wounding four workers.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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