Protesters: Ukraine’s leader must defend nation at summit

Activists sing the national anthem during a rally in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. A few thousand activists demanded to withdraw the Russian troops from currently occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine’s east on the eve of Monday peace talks in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. ( AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Several thousand people rallied Sunday in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to demand that the president defend the country’s interests in this week’s summit with Russia, Germany and France on ending the war in eastern Ukraine.

Many Ukrainians are concerned that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice, could be out-maneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit on Monday in Paris.

Zelenskiy is eager to make progress on ending the war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed some 14,000 people since 2014. Russia wants to use the summit to increase pressure on Zelenskiy to fulfill the 2015 Minsk peace accord, which gives the rebel-held regions more autonomy in exchange for ending the fighting.

Germany and France helped to broker that 2015 deal, but it has been repeatedly ignored.

The Minsk accord calls for Ukraine to be able to regain control of its border with Russia only after local elections are held under Ukrainian law in the separatist regions and the regions receive autonomous status. But Zelenskiy says Ukraine must get control of its border before local elections are held.

At the rally in Kyiv’s Independence Square, demonstrators held banners reading “No compromises!” and “No surrender!”

“I lost a lot of friends who were killed in the east, and I won’t allow their blood to be shed in vain. The authorities are negotiating with the Russians and making some deals behind our backs,” said Anton Trigub, a 36-year-old veteran of the fighting.

“For five years now, war has been going on in Ukraine, we are very tired … But Putin can take advantage of this fatigue, and we do not need peace at all costs under Russian conditions,” said Tamara Lukashuk, a 52-year-old musician.

Former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost his re-election bid to Zelenskiy, told the rally “if if this peace is a surrender of Ukrainian interests, it is not peace but capitulation … we cannot allow elections at gunpoint.”

Presidential spokeswoman Yulia Mendel said Zelenskiy would make tough demands at Monday’s summit.

“The first three steps that President Zelensky will take at a meeting in Paris: the terms and conditions of the return of captured Ukrainians; a real, not fake, ceasefire; and, of course, the withdrawal of foreign troops and bandit formations from the territory of Donbass,” Mendel wrote on Facebook, using a term for Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Local elections may be held after border control is returned and “when there are no foreign troops and illegal armed groups” in the area, she wrote.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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