Their city has a Putin plaque. They want Zelensky to demolish it.

“The voice got bigger,” Fortunato said.

Previous campaigns to remove the plaque have failed. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, around 12,000 people signed an online petition to have it removed, but it was rejected. Part of the problem is that it is not clear even to some local officials who is responsible for this decision, although the rector of the basilica, Giovanni Dtante, said that the square where the plaque is posted “falls under the direct responsibility” of the government of the city. .

The mayor of Bari, Antonio Decaro, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In 2022, he defended the plaque, saying: “I am not in favor of erasing a piece of history,” local media reported at the time.

In an interview, Father Distant sought to resolve the controversy by focusing instead on the history of “promoting and re-establishing Christian unity” espoused by St. Nicholas, and stressed that it was the Russian Orthodox Church in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in 1095 established the re-enactment of the relics now kept in Bari. It was a subtle recognition of the break between the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and the traditional Russian patriarchate, led by an ally of Putin, which occurred following the invasion of 2022.

But, Father Dtante said, St. Nicholas' legacy of promoting “justice, truth, love, peace” also serves as an appropriate backdrop for the G7 meeting.

Last month, around 1,000 Orthodox pilgrims attended the annual St. Nicholas celebration services in Bari's basilica, including some visitors from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states, but mostly local people. In past years, officials said, the celebration has attracted more than 10,000 people, about a third of them from Russia.

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