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Ukraine criticises Pope Francis for saying Kyiv should show 'white flag of courage' in war with Putin's troops

Pope Francis pictured presiding over a Mass for the episcopal ordination (AFP via Getty Images)
Pope Francis pictured presiding over a Mass for the episcopal ordination (AFP via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s foreign minister has joined those criticising Pope Francis over his call for Kyiv to show "the courage of the white flag" and negotiate an end to the war with Russia.

The Pontiff made the comments in an interview made available in part at the weekend.

He responded to a presenter's suggestion by saying that when things were not going well for a party to a conflict "you have to have the courage to negotiate".

But Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hit back at the comments, saying that the strong person in any dispute "stands on the side of good rather than attempting to put them on the same footing and call it 'negotiations'".

"Our flag is a yellow and blue one," Kuleba wrote in English on social media, referring to the Ukrainian national flag. "This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags."

Kuleba also pointed to allegations that Pope Pius XII failed to take action against Nazi tyranny in World War Two.

"At the same time, when it comes to the white flag, we know this Vatican's strategy from the first half of the twentieth century," he wrote.

"I urge (the Vatican) to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to support Ukraine and its people in their just struggle for their lives."

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference (AFP via Getty Images)
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference (AFP via Getty Images)

The head of Ukraine's five million-strong eastern rite Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, also rejected the pope's comments.

“Ukraine is wounded, but not conquered! Ukraine is exhausted, but it stands and will stand!" the church's website quoted Shevchuk as saying in New York.

"Believe me, no one has any idea of surrendering."

Ukraine has been unable to repel Russian forces since Moscow's full-scale invasion two years ago, but rejects negotiations while Moscow's troops remain in the slightly less than 20% of its territory they hold.

President Volodymyr Zelensky's peace plan calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of Ukraine and the restoration of its state borders. However, the Kremlin has ruled out engaging in peace talks on terms set by Kyiv.

In response to the row, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Saturday that the Pope had adopted the interviewer's use of the "white flag" term.

The Pope has upset Ukrainian officials several times in the war, including his call last year to Russian youth to take pride as heirs of tsars like Peter the Great, held up by President Vladimir Putin as an example to justify his actions in Ukraine.