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Pope kisses flag from Bucha, slams ‘horrendous cruelty’ of killings

VATICAN CITY, Holy See — Pope Francis on Wednesday hit out at the "ever more horrendous cruelty" in Ukraine, after the murder of civilians in the town of Bucha near the capital.

"The recent news about the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, instead attests to new atrocities, such as the Bucha massacre," the pope said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

"Ever more horrendous cruelties, also perpetrated against defenseless civilians, women and children. These are victims whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and begs for mercy," he said.

Francis, 85, then stood and held up a flag he said "comes from the war. From that martyred city Bucha."

He then folded the flag and kissed it.

The discovery of dozens of bodies in mass graves or littering the streets in Bucha over the weekend has sparked global outrage.

The Ukrainian army retook control of the key commuter town outside Kyiv just a few days ago and said it had found dozens of bodies after Russian forces pulled out.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called the killings "war crimes" and "genocide" and Western countries have ramped up sanctions against Russia in reaction to the deaths.

But the Kremlin has denied the accusations and claimed the images emerging from Bucha and other towns are fakes produced by Ukrainian forces, or that the deaths occurred after Russian soldiers pulled out. However, satellite images from Maxar Technologies show bodies in the streets of Bucha during Russian troops' occupation. — Agence France-Presse