Pope Francis deplores ‘spiral of violence and death’ in Ukraine, as Kyiv retakes Lyman

Ukrainian president Zelenskiy announces that his country’s military have liberated Lyman

Kyiv retook control of a strategic town in eastern Ukraine just days after Moscow claimed to have annexed the region “forever”, as Pope Francis made his first direct public appeal to Russian president Vladimir Putin to end the “spiral of violence and death” caused by his invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on Sunday that his country’s military had liberated Lyman, an important transport hub in the Donetsk region, two days after Mr Putin proclaimed Russian sovereignty over that partially occupied province and three others in eastern and southeastern Ukraine — Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

“As of 12:30pm, Lyman has been fully cleared,” Mr Zelenskiy said in a brief message on social media. “Thank you to our soldiers. Glory to Ukraine.”

Russia’s defence ministry acknowledged on Saturday that its forces were withdrawing from Lyman “due to the threat of encirclement” and would regroup “at more favourable positions”.


Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were in effect surrounded, with the only escape route fully covered by Ukrainian troops and artillery batteries. They said the only option for Moscow’s units in the area was to surrender or try to flee, and footage posted on social media from Lyman showed destroyed Russian vehicles and soldiers in captivity.

Ukraine’s liberation of Lyman continues the momentum it gained when retaking the nearby Kharkiv region in a rapid counteroffensive this month, and gives it a platform for pushing south into other Russian-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where supply lines for Moscow’s military are increasingly vulnerable.

In an apparent attempt to regain initiative in the conflict, Mr Putin this month launched the conscription of 300,000 reservists to join his military’s ranks in Ukraine, and on Friday signed documents with Moscow-appointed officials from occupied Ukraine, documents that he said formalised Russia’s annexation of four of its neighbour’s regions.

Mr Putin and senior allies have also stated repeatedly in recent days that Russia is prepared to use all weapons in its arsenal – including, potentially, nuclear missiles – to prevent Ukraine retaking its legally recognised territory.

Ramzan Kadyrov, warlord and Kremlin-appointed leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, joined growing criticism of the country’s military performance in Ukraine and said “more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

In an address to thousands of people in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Pope Francis made his first direct public appeal to Mr Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine, and urged Mr Zelenskiy to be open to the possibility of peace talks – two days after Kyiv said negotiations with Russia’s current leader were now impossible.

“The course of the war in Ukraine has become so serious, devastating and threatening, as to cause great concern . . . Indeed, this terrible and inconceivable wound to humanity, instead of healing, continues to shed even more blood,” Pope Francis said on Sunday.

“My appeal is addressed first and foremost to the president of the Russian Federation, imploring him to stop this spiral of violence and death . . . I address an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious proposals for peace,” he added.

In apparent reference to Mr Putin’s annexation claims, Pope Francis said: “I deeply deplore the grave situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law. It increases the risk of nuclear escalation, giving rise to fears of uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe