(Source: RFE/RL)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on February 8.

The Ukrainian leader and the head of the Catholic Church discussed the plight of Ukrainian detainees in annexed Crimea, areas of eastern Ukraine under de facto control of Russia-backed separatists, as well as in Russia, the Ukrainian presidential press service said in a posting on Twitter.

Russia seized control of Crimea in March 2014 in a controversial referendum after sending in soldiers without identifying insignia to secure key military and government sites on the Black Sea peninsula.

A month later, Moscow began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

The 83-year-old pontiff has on several occasions voiced hope for an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Francis offered a prayer ahead of the key summit involving Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on December 9, expressing hope the sides will “seek solutions to the painful conflict.”

Francis also called for peace in eastern Ukraine in his Christmas message on December 25.

Zelenskiy arrived in Italy on February 7, when he met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Talks in Rome were reported to focus on Vitaliy Markiv, a Ukrainian National Guardsman sentenced in 2019 by an Italian court to 24 years in prison for his role in the deaths of an Italian photojournalist and his translator during fighting near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk in 2014.

Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.