Zelenskyy in Rome for talks with Pope Francis, Italy’s PM and president


Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy is in Rome on Saturday for talks with Italian officials and Pope Francis, who has said the Vatican has launched a behind-the-scenes initiative to try to end the war launched last year by Russia.

Zelensky tweeted at 4:24 a.m. ET about the visit, mentioning Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, as well as the Pope.

When Zelenskyy arrived Saturday at a military airfield at Rome’s Ciampino airport, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani was on hand to greet him. Tajani told reporters that Italy will continue to support Ukraine “360 degrees” and press for a just peace, one that safeguards Ukraine’s independence.

Meloni staunchly backs military and other aid for Ukraine. But while her Brothers of Italy party fiercely champions the principle of national sovereignty, Meloni has had to deal with leaders of two coalition partners who have openly professed for years their admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi, a former premier, has boasted of his friendship with Putin, while another government ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, has questioned the value of economic sanctions against Russia.

Zelenskyy began his official meetings by calling on Mattarella, who is head of state, at the presidential Quirinale Palace.

Rain let up just in time about noon for the two to view an honour guard in the palace courtyard atop the Quirinal Hill, and Zelenskyy stood with his hand over his heart as an Italian military band played Ukraine’s anthem.

“We are fully at your side,” Mattarella told Zelenskyy at the start of their meeting.

The Ukrainian leader then headed to the premier’s office at Chigi Palace. Meloni and Zelenskyy embraced in the palace courtyard, before the two headed to their closed-door talks.

‘We need help,’ says Ukraine citizen in Italy

En route, Zelenskyy’s motorcade passed by cheering Ukrainians who had waited in the rain to welcome him during his visit to the Italian capital, expected to last several hours.

Near the presidential palace was Mariya Hrytskevych, a Ukrainian citizen living in Italy, who noted that Zelenskyy is “travelling a lot for our good — to fight and to find more help, because we need help.”

Zelenskyy is believed to be heading to Berlin next.

His exact schedule hadn’t been publicly announced because of security concerns, and the Vatican only confirmed a papal meeting shortly before the Ukrainian president’s plane touched down.

Italian state radio reported that as part of protective measures, a no-fly zone was ordered for Rome skies and police sharpshooters were strategically placed on high buildings.

Francis eager for peace

Meloni met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv shortly before the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Francis last met with the Ukrainian leader in 2020.

The pontiff makes frequent impassioned pleas on behalf of Ukraine’s “martyred” people, in his words.

An older man wearing all white including a white skullcap puts his hand on the forehead of a child, who is smiling slightly. Other children look on, including one in a yellow tuque.
Pope Francis, shown blessing children from Ukraine during the weekly general audience on Jan. 8 at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican, last met with Zelenskyy in 2020. (AFP via Getty Images)

At the end of April, flying back to Rome from a trip to Hungary, Francis told reporters on the plane that the Vatican was involved in a behind-the-scene peace mission but gave no details. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has confirmed such an initiative.

The German government, meanwhile, said it was providing Ukraine with additional military aid worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3.97 billion Cdn), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.

Four unmanned police motorcyles are parked by European-style buildings.
An exterior view of the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome where Zelenskyy was expected to meet with Mattarella. (Riccardo de Luca/The Associated Press)

The announcement Saturday came as preparations were underway in Berlin for a possible first visit to Germany by Zelenskyy since Russia invaded his country last year.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin wants to show with the latest package of arms “that Germany is serious in its support” for Ukraine.

“Germany will provide all the help it can, as long as it takes,” he said.

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