Ukraine's Zelenskiy meets troops near eastern front, says 'all our people will be free'
KYIV, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited troops close to front lines in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday and expressed thanks to everyone involved in the war effort to mark the country's Armed Forces Day.
Addressing servicemen later in the presidential palace in Kyiv, Zelenskiy said he had spent the day with troops in Donbas, theatre of the heaviest battles, and in Kharkiv region, where Ukrainians have retaken swathes of occupied territory from Russian forces who invaded more than nine months ago.
"Thousands of Ukrainians have given their lives so that the day might come when not a single occupying soldier will remain in our land and when all our people will be free," Zelenskiy, clad in his trademark khaki green, told the gathering.
He offered thanks to medical staff and to parents of servicemen and welcomed home 60 prisoners of war returned in a swap with Russia, which calls its activities in Ukraine a "special military operation" to root out nationalists it considers dangerous. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory from its pro-Western neighbour.
During his visit near the front, one of several he has made in recent months, Zelenskiy decorated a number of servicemen.
"Thank you for this resilience and strength. You are an outpost of our independence," he wrote in a Telegram post.
"I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk," he said, referring to regional capitals in eastern Ukraine seized by Moscow-backed proxies in 2014.
"I am sure in Crimea as well," he said, mentioning the peninsula captured by pro-Moscow forces in 2014.
Zelenskiy did not indicate exactly where he met the troops.
He also recorded a separate video in which he spoke in front of a huge sign with letters saying Sloviansk, a city held by Ukrainian forces near the besieged town of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian officials say fighting is raging around Bakhmut as Russian troops seek its capture to gain a greater foothold in Donbas following battlefield setbacks elsewhere.
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