Zelenskiy Visits Eastern Ukraine Amid Rise In Tensions, Russian Troop Movements

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shakes hands with servicemen in eastern Ukraine on April 8.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is making a visit to the volatile eastern part of the country amid rising tensions with Russia over the conflict.

The president’s office said in a statement on April 8 that the “working trip” to the area will include meetings with Ukrainian servicemen serving on the front lines separating them from Russian-backed fighters.

The visit comes after a recent accumulation of photographs, video, and other data suggesting major movements of Russian armed units toward or near Ukraine’s borders and into Crimea.

“The president will visit the advanced positions, where the regime of comprehensive and permanent cease-fire has been systematically violated recently, and where Ukrainian defenders have been killed and wounded as a result of enemy shelling,” the statement said.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.

Since then, overwhelming evidence suggests Russia has continued to lend diplomatic and military aid to armed separatists fighting in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas.

Despite multiple cease-fire agreements, the violence has never really ended with more than 13,000 people killed since April 2014, according to the United Nations, and more than 1 million displaced.

Moscow has called the recent troop movements defensive and says it has no plans to intervene in the conflict, which has seen both sides blame each other for recent violations of a cease-fire agreement.

"As the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, I want to be with our soldiers in the tough times in #Donbas. Going to the locations of the escalation," Zelenskiy added in a post on Twitter.

The uptick in violence and tensions prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on April 6 to call Zelenskiy "to express serious concern about Russia’s military activities in and around Ukraine & ongoing cease-fire violations."

Zelenskiy reportedly told Stoltenberg that a path toward NATO membership was the only way to end war in eastern Ukraine.

He also urged NATO member states to strengthen their military presence in the Black Sea region as a "powerful deterrent" to Moscow.

With reporting by Reuters

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