Pope compares Russia's war in Ukraine to 1930s famine inflicted by Stalin

Pope Francis has mentioned Ukraine in nearly every speech since the war began.

 Pope Francis kisses the pendant of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, as the Pope holds an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, in Awali, Bahrain (photo credit: REUTERS)
Pope Francis kisses the pendant of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, as the Pope holds an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, in Awali, Bahrain
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Ukrainians were suffering today from the "martyrdom of aggression" and compared Russia's war in Ukraine to the "terrible genocide" of the 1930s, when Soviet leader Josef Stalin inflicted famine on the country.

Francis, speaking to thousands of people in St. Peter's Square in his weekly general audience, mentioned the "Holodomor," or death by starvation, in which millions of Ukrainians died.

"This Saturday marks the anniversary of the terrible genocide of the Holodomor, the extermination by famine of 1932-33 that was artificially caused by Stalin," he said.

"Let us pray for the victims of this genocide and let us pray for so many Ukrainians - children, women, elderly - who are today suffering the martyrdom of aggression," he said.

Generations of strife for Ukrainians 

For hundreds of years, the Ukrainian language and any expression of Ukrainian culture and independent identity were quashed, first under the Russian Empire of the tsars and later by the Soviets.

 Pope Francis holds a child as he attends a mass in St. Peter’s Square on June 25.  (credit: VATICAN MEDIA/REUTERS) Pope Francis holds a child as he attends a mass in St. Peter’s Square on June 25. (credit: VATICAN MEDIA/REUTERS)

The Holodomor was a result of Stalin's efforts to collectivize agriculture and root out Ukraine's fledgling nationalist movement.

Since Russia invaded its neighbor in February, Francis has mentioned Ukraine in nearly all his public appearances and has warned several times that the crisis risks triggering the use of nuclear weapons, with uncontrollable global consequences.

Last month the pope for the first time directly begged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the "spiral of violence and death" in Ukraine.