Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected in Rome on Saturday for talks with political leaders and possibly Pope Francis, in his first visit to Italy since Russia's invasion.

A spokesman for Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed to AFP he would meet Zelensky on Saturday, May 13, without providing any further details for security reasons.

A Vatican source told AFP earlier that a meeting between Zelensky and Pope Francis was also "possible", although this has not yet been confirmed.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who visited Kyiv in February to emphasise her country's support for Ukraine, is also likely to meet the Ukrainian president during his trip.

Despite a history of warm ties with Moscow, NATO and EU member Italy has sent weapons and money to help Kyiv since Russia invaded in February 2022, and backed Western sanctions against Russia.

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Meloni hosted Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Rome last month, on the occasion of a conference on how Italian businesses could help rebuild the war-torn country.

It was not clear how long Zelensky would be in Rome, with speculation he is also planning a trip to Germany this weekend.

German media reported earlier this month that Zelensky will visit Berlin for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, before picking up the Charlemagne Prize, for work done in the service of European unification, in the western city of Aachen on Sunday.

German officials have not confirmed the visit, but Berlin police have opened a probe after details of the possible trip attributed to the force appeared in the media.

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- Calls for peace -

Pope Francis, who last received Zelensky at the Vatican in February 2020, has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and prays for the victims of the war almost every week.

Last Sunday, talking of "beleaguered Ukraine", he urged world leaders to "listen to the desire of the people who suffer and who want peace!"

During a papal audience during his visit to Rome, Prime Minister Shmyhal invited the 86-year-old pontiff to Ukraine and asked for his help in returning children forcibly taken to Russia.

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Speaking to reporters while flying home from a trip to Hungary a few days later, the pope confirmed he wanted to help.

Shmyhal also said they had discussed Zelensky's plan for peace and "the different steps the Vatican could take" to help Kyiv achieve its goals.

In his press conference, Francis said he was willing to do everything necessary for peace in Ukraine, adding: "A mission is under way, but it isn't yet public."

Both Kyiv and Moscow said they know nothing about such a mission.

In the early months of the Ukraine war, Pope Francis drew criticism for failing to blame Russia directly for the conflict.

In a March interview, he said he had offered to go to Moscow to negotiate peace but had been rebuffed, adding that the conflict involved "imperial interests", and not just Russia's.

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