Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky who has defined his top priority as ending the conflict in the country’s volatile east, made his first official visit to the Donetsk region on Saturday and called for the return of all pro-Russia areas to Kiev's control.
Zelensky visited the major trading port city of Mariupol and watched officers of the Ukrainian National Guard, border guard, sappers and divers demonstrating their skills as part of joint military exercises in the Sea of Azov.
"We must now thoroughly redistribute the maximum of our attention to the Donbass," the Ukrainian president told journalists at the port, referring to the region controlled by pro-Russia separatists. "This is our land, our territory and we want people from the other side, in the temporarily occupied territories, to see that Ukraine is flourishing here."
The visit to Mariupol, located about 20 kilometers from the frontline of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, came as the city was celebrating the fifth anniversary of its liberation from the separatists.
The comedian-turned-politician, whose landslide election victory in April shook the political establishment in Ukraine, said he had a plan for the "nearest future" to resolve the conflict the east in less than five years, without providing further details.
Zelensky also said on Saturday his main goal was to end the war in eastern Ukraine and return all areas under Kiev's control. "There are our people, we are all Ukrainians.”
The 41-year-old former comedian was inaugurated on May 20 as Ukraine’s 41st president, launching a fresh era for a country that has been wracked by economic difficulties and a four-year-old deadly war in two mainly Russian-speaking regions in its east.
The armed confrontation began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration.
The majority of the people in the east, mainly ethnic Russians, refused to endorse the new administration that took over at the time, and turned the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk — collectively known as the Donbass — into self-proclaimed republics.
The war has so far claimed some 13,000 lives since 2014.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis, but Russia denies the allegations.
Relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated since 2014, when Crimea, a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea, joined Russia following a referendum, in which more than 90 percent of participants voted in favor of unification.
The West brands the reunification as the annexation of Ukrainian land by Russia.
The US and the European Union have since imposed several rounds of harsh sanctions on Russia over the conflict in the east and the Crimea issue.
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