A phone call between Zelensky and Pope Francis: Exchange of prisoners
- 21.Jun ‘20
5-th of June, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and Pope Francis had a talk over the phone.
Besides current topics such as fighting COVID-19 or collaboration on humanitarian and environmental issues, Zelensky asked for help in freeing Ukrainian prisoners in Russia and Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LRP and DPR, respectively).
According to the Office of the President, the Pontific responded by saying that he was already taking part in liberating Vitaliy Markiv, a member of the Ukrainian military.
To recap, the National Guardsman is accused of murdering Andrei Mironov, a Russian journalist and human rights advocate, as well the Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli, in 2014 in Sloviansk. The murder case was prosecuted by Ukrainian, Russian, and Italian investigators collaboratively. In 2017, Markiv was detained when trying to enter Italy. Italian authorities charged him with murder, and in July 2019 Markiv was sentenced to 24 years of incarceration.
Some Ukrainian politicians, e.g., Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, claimed that he was innocent and that Russia had interfered with the decision of the Italian court. However, most human rights groups, including Amnesty International were unequivocal in condemning Markiv.
Returning to Pope Francis, it must be said that as the leader of the most populous denomination, he can exercise his right to plead for parole and participate in peacebuilding. It also goes without saying that the years of conflict have led to multiple prisoners of war on both sides: civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the military following orders from their superiors. It is quite odd, then, that Pope Francis decided to step up for the very person who deliberately murdered civilians (which is a crime of war) and who had been convicted by an independent court.
Obviously, the Pope has more ways to influence politics in Italy where Markiv is incarcerated, but the majority of prisoners are elsewhere. At the same time, there is a committee on prisoner exchange founded in July 2019 by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The committee’s goal is to exchange all prisoners on both sides – which seems like a far more humane and genuine effort in peacebuilding. Metropolican Onuphrius, the head of the UOC MP, sent letters requesting speedy prisoner exchange to Zelensky, Patriarch Kirill, and Putin. The latter holds frequent meetings with Pope Francis, which shows how much the Russian leader respects the head of the Catholic church. One needs no reminders that the relationship between Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church are also at an all-time high.
For all these reasons, Pope Francis would achieve better results if he supported the already existing initiative on exchanging all prisoners from both sides instead of stepping up for a single person convicted of murdering civilians. This could easily lead to less peace – and more hostility between the countries.