Pope Francis on Wednesday compared Russia’s war in Ukraine to the Holodomor famine in the 1930s, which killed millions of Ukrainians and was engineered by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“Let us pray for peace in the world and for an end to all conflicts with a special thought for the terrible suffering of the dear and martyred people of Ukraine,” Francis said during his weekly General Audience at St. Francis Square in Vatican City.
Stalin engineered the Holodomor famine of 1932 and 1933 to consolidate power over Ukraine as he feared a possible secession from the Soviet Union. Many scholars argue it was a genocide.
Strict rationing systems fostered the famine and killed up to 28,000 Ukrainians a day, with most historians listing the death toll at 3.9 million people.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has led to mass suffering and allegations of war crimes. The United Nations concluded last month that Russian forces have committed war crimes including torture and rape, while Moscow has also been accusing of weaponizing global hunger by intermittently blocking Ukrainian grain exports.
Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In October, he called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop this spiral of violence and death” after Russia illegally annexed four regions of Ukraine and Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, Francis urged his assembly to “pray for the victims of this genocide.”
“Let us pray for all Ukrainians, the children, the women and the elderly, the babies who are today suffering the martyrdom of aggression,” the Pope said.