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Pope Francis on Wednesday likened the war in Ukraine to the “horrific holocaust genocide” of the 1930s, when the policies of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin caused a devastating famine in Ukraine.

The pope compared Moscow’s attack on civilian targets in Ukraine to Stalin’s decision to starve millions in Ukraine, in one of his strongest condemnations of the Russian aggression to date.

“Let us pray for world peace and for the end of all conflicts, especially for the terrible suffering of the dear martyrs of Ukraine,” Pope Francis said to a weekly general audience in St. Petersburg. Peter Square. “Let’s think about war-torn Ukraine.”

The Pope then asked people to join Ukraine this Saturday in commemoration of “the terrible Holodomor genocide, Stalin’s man-made genocide of starvation in 1932-33”.

“Let us pray for the victims of this genocide, let us pray for all Ukrainians, children, women and the elderly, as well as babies who are suffering today from the aggression,” he said.

Ukrainian historians believe that Stalin, as the leader of the Soviet Union, used the famine caused by the Soviet Union’s forced farm collectivization to crush Ukraine’s desire for independence. The famine began in Kazakhstan and southern Russia, but was worst in Ukraine, where entire villages were starving.

The pope has called the Ukrainian victims of the war martyrs in previous comments, but the comparison to the famine appears to be his strongest yet.

In the early months of the conflict, Francis stuck to the Vatican’s longstanding policy of taking no sides, and while he regretted the violence, he aimed to facilitate a peace deal.

However, he has recently stepped up and toughened his rhetoric. He urged the faithful to pray for “martyred” Ukraine and implored Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to stop the “vicious circle of violence and death”.

The pope has also frequently warned against the risks of reckless use of nuclear weapons and the unmanageable global consequences that could result, explicitly referring to Mr. Putin’s statement hinted at the possibility of nuclear weapons being used.

In the months following the Feb. 24 invasion, the Pope appeared to be wary. He deliberately avoided mentioning Mr.’s name. Putin, and even Russia itself, as the aggressor, despite calling for an end to the violence and speaking out against “unacceptable armed aggression” and the “barbaric killing of children”.

However, his neutrality has drawn criticism from Ukraine, especially when he says Daria Dugina, a 29-year-old Russian ultranationalist close to Trump, has drawn criticism from Ukraine. Putin, who supported the invasion, was assassinated in August. Francis called her an “innocent” victim.

“The madness of war,” Francis said at the time. “Innocents pay the price of war—innocents! Let’s think about this reality, and say to each other, ‘War is crazy.'”

Ukraine’s foreign minister summons the Vatican’s ambassador to Ukraine, expressing “deep disappointment”.

After that, Francis changed tack. On August 30, the Vatican called Russia a war aggressor for the first time and strongly condemned Moscow’s aggression.

The Vatican said: “As for the massive war in Ukraine initiated by the Russian Federation, Pope Francis’ Intervention clearly and unequivocally condemns it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, stupid, repugnant and Blasphemous,” in the statement.

During the early months of the conflict, the pope also avoided criticizing the war’s main religious supporter and apologist, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. His position changed in May, when he warned Kirill not to “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy” and urged him to work for peace instead.

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