Africa News Thu, 12 May 2022

Pope Francis meets wives of trapped Azov Battalion fighters

Pope Francis has met with two Ukrainian women, whose husbands are serving in Ukraine's Azov Batallion and are currently trapped in the Azovstal steelworks, close to the heavily besieged city of Mariupol.

The pope spoke briefly with Kateryna Prokopenko, the wife of Azov commander Denys Prokopenko, and Yulia Fedoyuk during the general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday.

The women later described the encounter as a "historic moment," the ANSA news agency reported. "We all hope that this will help save our husbands and the soldiers who are in the Mariupol Azovstal plant. We hope that this encounter will offer a chance to save their lives," they said.

The Russians have taken control of the port city of Mariupol, and have been shelling the Azovstal steel plant where numerous Ukrainian soldiers are still holed up.

Several dozen civilians were evacuated by the United Nations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from the industrial zone over the weekend.

The two women said that the pope promised to pray for the fighters and do all that he could to help them.

He did not respond to their request that he come to Ukraine, they said.

Early on in the war, the pope considered making a trip to Ukraine to plea for peace, after he received invitations from Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky and Kiev mayor, Vitali Klitschko. However, the visit was eventually ruled out and the Vatican is now attempting to drum up diplomatic support for the war-torn country.

Ukraine's Azov Battalion was originally founded by nationalists and neo-Nazis and is still partly dominated by them. For many in Ukraine however, the regiment's fighters, who are among the last holding out against Russian forces in the ruins of Mariupol, represent the last hope that the city will remain in Ukrainian hands.
Source: GNA
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