In a meeting with Ukrainian bishops Friday, Pope Francis called on both sides of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine to “apply the agreements reached by mutual accord” and "be respectful to the principle of international legality.” The remarks were made after reports that pro-Russian separatists are staging attacks in the region despite a ceasefire agreement negotiated last week in Minsk by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
Francis assured the bishops who were visiting Rome that “the Holy See is at your side, even in international forums, to ensure your rights, your concerns, and the just evangelical values that animate you are understood.”
The "ad limina" meeting in Rome, which began Monday and ends Saturday, gave the Ukrainian Catholic bishops a chance to share their opinions about the Vatican's approach to the 10-month conflict.
Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Polish Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki both said that they visited Rome to tell the pope “the truth.”
“The truth is that we, the Ukrainian people, are the victims,” Shevchuk said, alluding to comments Francis made during a general audience on Feb. 4 about the conflict. Critics say the pope’s language catered to the Russian side of the conflict, referring to it as a civil war to appease the Orthodox Church.
“We have to say that we do not have a civil war in Ukraine," Shevchuk said Thursday at a news conference in Rome. "We have an aggression of a foreign country against the Ukrainian citizens and the Ukrainian state."
The bishops also voiced concern for the 2 million refugees displaced as a result of the crisis. The overall death toll since the conflict began exceeds 5,358 people, with another 12,235 wounded, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"God is always with the victims," Shevchuk said. "He himself became a victim with the offering on the cross."