Pope vows to help return captured Ukrainian children from Russia

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Pope Francis and the Vatican could be part of a plan to return kidnapped Ukrainian children from Russia.

The Pope said Sunday that he’d do “all that is humanly possible” to reunite families.

“All human gestures help. Gestures of cruelty don’t help,” he said during a mid-air press conference on the way home from Hungary.

Numerous Ukrainian children have been hauled into Russia since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February 2022.

The International Criminal Court at The Hague charged Putin and Russian children’s rights commissioner Alekseyevna Lvova-Belov with war crimes for the alleged abduction and forced adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia.

Russia has argued that it moved the Ukrainian children for their own safety. Both Putin and Lvova-Belov remain free.

In mid-April, a group of Ukrainian children were reunited with their families after being forced to spend six months in Russian custody.

“I cried when I saw my mom from the bus,” said 13-year-old Bogdan, one of the returned kids. “I’m very happy to be back.”

The pontiff said he hoped to facilitate a similar exchange in the future.

“I’m available to do anything,” he said. “There’s a mission that’s not public that’s underway; when it’s public I’ll talk about it.”

The Pope did not say if his talks over the weekend with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban were related to the “mission.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal met with the Pope last week in hopes of gaining his help.

“I asked His Holiness to help us return home Ukrainians, Ukrainian children who are detained, arrested and criminally deported to Russia,” Shmyhal said after the meeting.

Francis also spoke about how the Vatican had successfully mediated prisoner exchanges in the past, and how he believed it could be done again. The past exchanges “went well. I think it could go well also for this,” he said.

“The Holy See is available to do it because it’s the right thing,” he added. “We have to do all that is humanly possible.”

With News Wire Services