Pope Francis on Wednesday compared the war in Ukraine to the “terrible Holodomor genocide” of the 1930s, when the policies of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin caused a devastating famine in Ukraine.
The pontiff’s comparison between Moscow’s attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine and Stalin’s decision to starve millions of people in Ukraine to death represents one of his strongest condemnations of the Russian invasion to date.
“Let us pray for peace in the world and for the end of all conflicts, with a special thought for the terrible suffering of the dear martyred people of Ukraine,” Pope Francis said during his weekly general audience in St. Rock. “And think of war-torn Ukraine.”
The pontiff then asked that people join Ukraine this Saturday to commemorate “the terrible genocide of the Holodomor, the extermination by starvation of 1932-33 artificially brought about by Stalin”.
“Let us pray for the victims of this genocide and let us pray for all Ukrainians, children, women and the elderly, babies who today suffer the martyrdom of aggression,” he said.
Ukrainian historians argue that Stalin, as leader of the Soviet Union, used a famine brought about by the Soviets’ forced collectivization of farms to crush Ukrainian aspirations for independence. The famine began in Kazakhstan and southern Russia, but was most devastating in Ukraine, where entire villages were starved.
The pope, in previous comments, has called Ukrainian victims martyrs of war, but the comparison to the Holodomor seemed to be his strongest yet.
In the early months of the conflict, Francis confirmed the Vatican’s long-standing policy of not taking sides, though he deplored the violence, in an effort to facilitate a peace agreement.
Yet he has recently intensified and sharpened his rhetoric. He urged worshipers to pray for a “martyred” Ukraine and pleaded with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to stop the “spiral of violence and death”.
The pope has also often warned of the reckless risk of using nuclear weapons and the uncontrollable global consequences that would result, a clear reference to statements by Mr Putin suggesting the use of nuclear weapons was a possibility.
For months after the February 24 invasion, the pope seemed to be walking a fine line. He carefully avoided naming Mr Putin, or even Russia itself, as the aggressor, even as he called for an end to violence and raised his voice against “unacceptable armed aggression” and the “barbarity of killing children”.
His neutrality, however, earned him criticism from Ukraine, notably when he claimed that Daria Dugina, a 29-year-old Russian ultranationalist close to Mr Putin who had supported the invasion, had been murdered in August. Francis called her an “innocent” victim.
“The madness of war”, said François at the time. “The innocent pay for war—the innocent! Let us reflect on this reality and say to ourselves: “War is madness”.
The Ukrainian foreign minister summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to Ukraine to express his “deep disappointment”.
After that, Francis changed course. On August 30, the Vatican declared for the first time that Russia was the aggressor in the war, strongly condemning the invasion of Moscow.
“As for the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Pope Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious”, the Vatican said. in the statement.
During the first month of the conflict, the pope had also avoided criticizing the main religious supporter and apologist for the war, Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church. His stance changed in May, when he warned Kirill not to “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy”, and urged him to work for peace instead.
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