Ukraine: Pope calls for day of fasting for peace

Threat of war in Ukraine causes pontiff "great pain in my heart".

Pope Francis on Wednesday urged all sides in the Russia-Ukraine dispute to "seriously examine their consciences before God", amid fears of a Russian invasion.

The pontiff said he is praying for all parties involved to "refrain from any action that will cause even more suffering" and "discredit international law".

Speaking during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Francis said that "increasingly alarming scenarios" were emerging "despite the diplomatic efforts of these past weeks", adding that the threat of war has caused "great pain in my heart".

He also called for a day of fasting for peace on 2 March, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar.

Francis made his appeal after Russian president Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine during a defiant televised address on Monday night.

In a statement on Tuesday, Italian premier Mario Draghi described Russia's recognition of the separatist regions as "an unacceptable violation of the democratic sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."