Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly had private talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday, after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Rome.
In a tweet after the 40-minute audience with the pope, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to Francis for "his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians." He said he spoke with the pontiff "about the tens of thousands of deported (Ukrainian) children," stating that "we must make every effort to return them home."
"In addition, I asked to condemn (Russian) crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor," Zelenskyy added. "I also talked about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace. I proposed joining its implementation."
Last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal asked the pope to help get children returned from Russia to Ukraine. The Vatican's statement Saturday made no mention of the request; instead, the Vatican said the two men spoke about Ukraine’s "humanitarian and political situation provoked by the ongoing war."
"The pope assured his constant prayer, paid witness to by his many public appeals and by his continued invoking of the Lord for peace, since February of last year,″ the Vatican said, a reference to the Russian invasion that began Feb. 24, 2022. Zelenskyy last met with the pope in 2020, before the war in Ukraine started, according to Politico.
Zelenskyy’s 10-point "peace" plan would establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. It would also create a European-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine, restore Ukraine’s damaged power infrastructure and ensure safety around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia.
At a press conference earlier Saturday, Meloni voiced Italy’s backing for Ukraine’s goal of becoming a member of the European Union and the "intensification" of a partnership with NATO.
"The message is clear and simple," Meloni said after a meeting with Zelenskyy that lasted more than an hour. "The future of Ukraine is a future of peace and freedom. And it's the future of Europe, a future of peace and freedom, for which there are no other possible solutions.''
Meloni, who staunchly supports military aid for Ukraine, said Italy would back the country "360 degrees for all the time necessary and beyond."
Separately, Italian President Sergio Mattarella told Zelenskyy, "We are fully at your side." Presidential palace sources also said Mattarella assured his guest that Italy would continue to support Ukraine militarily and financially, as well as with reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Zelenskyy later traveled to Berlin, where he was welcomed Sunday in his first visit to Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine.
During a press conference, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Zelenskyy his government will support Ukraine "for as long as necessary."
Zelenskyy said his country is preparing a counteroffensive designed to liberate areas occupied by Russia, not to attack Russian territory. On the eve of Zelenskyy's arrival, the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
"I thank Germany for the largest military aid package since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion," Zelenskyy tweeted. "German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory. Germany is a reliable ally! Together we are bringing peace closer!"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.