Pope Francis has asked all Catholic churches in Europe to take up a special collection for the people of beleaguered Ukraine on 24th April.

Speaking at the end of Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Pope announced the aid initiative, saying: “This gesture of charity, in addition to relieving material suffering, is intended to express my personal closeness and solidarity, and that of the entire Church, for Ukraine.”

“Beyond accompanying them with my constant thoughts and prayers, I’ve decided to promote humanitarian assistance for them,” he said.

He then encouraged all the faithful of Europe to make a generous contribution to the collection on the 5th Sunday of Easter.

The vast majority of Christians living in Ukraine are Orthodox but there are also several million Eastern Rite Catholics who are in unity with Rome; around five million.

According to the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs, over 9,000 people have died since conflict erupted in the Eastern European country in late 2013.