Pope Francis has expressed concern over military activity in eastern Ukraine and called for de-escalation and peace amid rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
The pontiff's comments on April 18 at the Vatican come as Ukraine and Western powers accuse Russia of a provocative military buildup near Ukraine's borders and in occupied Crimea.
A fragile cease-fire in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has also unraveled in recent weeks, leaving at least 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year.
"I am following with deep concern the events in several areas of eastern Ukraine, where in recent months violations of the cease-fire have multiplied, and I observe with great apprehension the increase of military activities," Francis told several hundred people gathered in St. Peter's Square.
"I firmly hope that the increase of tensions may be avoided and, on the contrary, gestures may be made that are capable of promoting mutual trust and fostering reconciliation and peace, so necessary and so desired," he added.
The pope also addressed the situation facing civilians in eastern Ukraine, where seven years of conflict have left 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian aid and protection, according to the UN.
At the end, he asked believers to pray for the suffering population.
The United States and NATO say the Russian military buildup is the largest since 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed Crimea and backed separatists in the east of Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
The Kremlin has rejected Western calls to pull back its troops from the border region, denying they are a threat and adding that military movements within Russia are a sovereign, internal issue.