Ukraine envoy criticises pope over comments on Russian killed by car bomb

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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican on Wednesday criticised Pope Francis for referring to Darya Dugina, daughter of a prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, who was killed by a car bomb near Moscow, as an innocent victim of war.

It is highly unusual for ambassadors to the Vatican to criticise the pope publicly.

"Innocents pay for war," Francis said earlier at his Wednesday general audience in a sentence where he referred to "that poor girl thrown in the air by a bomb under the seat of a car in Moscow".

Russia blamed the killing on Ukrainian agents, a charge Kyiv denies.

Alexander Dugin, Darya's father, has long advocated the unification of Russian-speaking and other territories in a new Russian empire that would include Ukraine.

Darya Dugina broadly supported her father's ideas and appeared on state TV in her own right to offer support for Russia's actions in Ukraine.

In a Tweet, Andrii Yurash, Ukraine's ambassador to the Holy See, said the pope's words were "disappointing".

"How (is it) possible to mention one of ideologists of (Russian) imperialism as innocent victim? She was killed by Russians," he said.

Francis called the war "madness". He said Ukrainian and Russian children had been killed and that "being an orphan knows no nationality".

In his Tweet, Yurash said: "can’t speak in same categories about aggressor and victim, rapist and raped".

The Vatican did not immediately respond to Yurash's comments.

In another part of his address, Pope Francis, called for "concrete steps" to end the war in Ukraine and avert the risk of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia power plant.

Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of firing at the facility, the largest of its kind in Europe and which pro-Moscow forces took over soon after the Feb. 24 invasion. The United Nations has called for the area to be demilitarised.

Francis spoke on the day Ukraine marked its independence from Soviet rule in 1991 and six months after Russian forces invaded.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Francis said he wanted to visit Kyiv but also wanted to go to Moscow, preferably first, to promote peace.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Toby Chopra, John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)