Ukraine slams Pope's 'white flag' call, vows no surrender to Russia

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba rejected Pope Francis’s call for a negotiation with Russia, saying they will never surrender despite Putin seizes vast parts of the country. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba rejected Pope Francis’s call for a negotiation with Russia, saying they will never surrender despite Putin seizes vast parts of the country. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

Published Mar 11, 2024


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.

WWII comparisons

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.

But in his evening address Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky renewed Ukraine's criticism.

Ukrainians of all faiths stood up to defend their country when Russia invaded, he said. "Christians, Muslims, Jews -- everyone... They support us with prayer, conversation, and deeds.

"This is what the church is -- with people. And not two and a half thousand kilometres away, somewhere to mediate virtually between someone who wants to live and someone who wants to destroy you."

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.

Later Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron's office said he would visit Ukraine "in the coming weeks", after a telephone call with Zelensky to "rapidly" pursue international munitions and aid efforts for Kyiv.

Macron raised eyebrows late last month by refusing to rule out the deployment of Western troops in Ukraine, a proposal widely denounced by US and European allies.

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 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.