Ambassador gives pope a stuffed bear as symbol of 'suffering Ukraine'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Ukraine's ambassador to the Holy See gave Pope Francis a stuffed bear that survived a Russian missile strike as a symbol of "struggling, suffering Ukraine."

The bear, which has a torn right paw, was found in January outside an apartment complex in Dnipro, Ukraine, which was hit by a Russian missile, Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador, told Catholic News Service after his meeting with the pope Sept. 22. The missile strike killed 46 people, including three children, and wounded 75 others.

While the ambassador said he intended his gift as a general symbol of the "terrible situation" in Ukraine, he told CNS its message is related to the Vatican's efforts to return home Ukrainian children illegally taken to Russia.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, the pope's Ukraine peace envoy, discussed repatriating Ukrainian children with government officials in Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, but the Vatican did not mention the issue of children in its communique on the cardinal's meeting with a senior Chinese official in Beijing.

"For China, I'm not sure it's the most important subject," Yurash told CNS, but the cardinal's "communication with the Ukrainian side and communication with the Russian side is very important."

"We are in permanent communication" with Cardinal Zuppi, Yurash said. "It goes very slowly, but it goes ahead, and we really expect some results sometime soon."

Ambassador Yurash could not confirm any plans for an upcoming trip to Moscow by the cardinal, which was hinted at by Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, but said Cardinal Zuppi is thinking of "practical steps" to help return Ukrainian children to their homes.

The ambassador said that with the pope he said he primarily discussed the cardinal's mission and the speech delivered to the U.N. Security Council Sept. 20 by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister, in which he said the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine threaten the entire global order.

Ambassador Yurash said he also asked Pope Francis about ways to commemorate 90 years since the end of the Holodomor - a famine engineered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin that led to the deaths of millions of Ukrainians - which the pope referred to as a genocide last year while speaking on the current situation in Ukraine.


Caption: Pope Francis receives a stuffed bear, a symbol of Ukraine's suffering, from Andrii Yurash, Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, during a meeting in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Sept. 22, 2023. The bear survived a Russian missile strike in Dnipro, Ukraine, that killed 46 people, including three children, and wounded 75 others. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)