Pope slams 'horrendous cruelty' in Bucha and kisses a Ukrainian flag

Pope slams ‘horrendous cruelty’ in Bucha as he kisses a Ukrainian flag brought out of the city while standing beside child refugees at the Vatican

  • Pope Francis said war crimes in ‘martyred city’ Bucha show ‘horrendous cruelty’
  • He kissed Ukrainian flag brought from the Kyiv suburb during civilian massacres
  • Thousands of innocent Ukrainians were murdered during days of sick atrocities
  • Francis added: ‘[Their] innocent blood cries out to heaven and begs for mercy.’

Pope Francis called out the ‘atrocities’ and ‘ever more horrendous cruelties’ by Russian forces in Ukraine as he prayed with child refugees this morning.

The pontiff also kissed a ragged Ukrainian flag brought from Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where war crimes are alleged to have taken place in recent days.

Francis, 85, stood with child refugees at his weekly general audience at the Vatican, handing them chocolate Easter eggs.

Francis kissed a ragged Ukrainian flag brought to the Vatican from Bucha near Kyiv

He held up the flag to the gathered audience and slammed Russia’s targeting of civilians

He said: ‘The recent news about the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, instead attests to new atrocities, such as the Bucha massacre.

‘Ever more horrendous cruelties, also perpetrated against defenceless civilians, women and children. These are victims whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and begs for mercy.’

The pope looked to the children and said: ‘These children had to flee in order to arrive in a safe land. This is the fruit of war. Let’s not forget them and let’s not forget the Ukrainian people.’

Francis also handed out chocolate Easter eggs to Ukrainian refugee families (left)

Francis met with the children during his weekly address, saying they were the ‘fruits of war’

He also lamented the ‘powerlessness’ of international organisations and said ‘the old history of competing great powers’ has continued despite the hope which followed World War Two.

The pope has been careful not to take sides since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, but has in recent days hardened his careful rhetoric. 

He pleaded with Putin in March: ‘In the name of God I ask you, stop this massacre.’ 

Serhii Lahovskyi, 26, mourns the body of friend Ihor in Bucha after their home was shelled

A civilian mass grave was discovered on the grounds of the City Church of Bucha

Grisly images of what are claimed to be civilian massacres carried out by Russian forces in Bucha before they withdrew have stirred a global outcry in recent days.

Horrifying news out of the Kyiv suburb has prompted Western nations to expel dozens of Moscow’s diplomats and propose further sanctions, including a ban on coal imports from Russia.

President Zelensky has described the targeting of innocent Ukrainians, including women and children, as ‘war crimes’ and ‘genocide’.

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden have repeated these claims. The US president called for a war crimes trial in the wake of the Bucha killings. 

Could Russian generals be prosecuted for alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine? 

Under international law, a military commander is responsible for any war crimes committed by his troops.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rules on disputes between states, but cannot prosecute individuals. If the ICJ ruled against Russia, the UN Security Council would be responsible for enforcing that.

But Moscow could veto any proposal to sanction it as one of the council’s five permanent members.

If investigators at the International Criminal Court (ICC) find evidence of atrocities carried out by Omurbekov’s men, the prosecutor will ask ICC judges to issue arrest warrants to bring individuals to trial in The Hague.

However, the court relies on states to arrest suspects. And because Russia is not a member of the court, Putin will not extradite any suspects.

Individuals suspected of war crimes who travel to another country could be arrested.

The ICC can also prosecute the offence of waging ‘aggressive war’ – the crime of an unjustified invasion beyond justifiable military action in self-defence.

Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch told the BBC there is evidence of summary executions and other grave abuses by Russian forces.

‘There’s one interesting episode in our Ukraine report where a commander instructs the soldiers to take out two civilians and shoot them dead,’ he said.

‘Two of the soldiers object to this and that command is not carried out. So, there’s clear evidence of some incidents in the Russian army, but also a command-and-control element to it.’

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