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Ukrainians Are More Concerned With Russia Peace Talks Than Trump Call


The impeachment inquiry into President Trump centers on his long-running effort to have a political rival investigated in Ukraine. It's the top news story in the United States day after day, yet it turns out not to be the biggest story right now in Ukraine. Ukrainians are debating whether a new peace deal will end their five-year conflict with Russia. NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been eager to move on after details of his phone conversation with President Trump came out. Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide last spring, has made ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine his top priority. More than 13,000 people have been killed as a result of the Russian-backed insurgency. Last week Zelenskiy addressed his fellow Ukrainians.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Zelenskiy told them he plans to seek a diplomatic solution that would break the stalemate on the front line.


ZELENSKIY: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Zelenskiy promised there would be no surrender of Ukraine's national interests and that Kyiv would regain control over territory held by pro-Kremlin fighters.

OLEKSIY MELNYK: His speech was not convincing. That's not something that people in Ukraine will buy into.

KIM: That's Oleksiy Melnyk, a foreign policy analyst in Kyiv.

MELNYK: If our leader says, oh, that's fine. Don't worry. I'll take care. No, no, no - that's not for Ukrainians. People in Ukraine want to hear something more concrete.

KIM: President Zelenskiy's announcement that he'll jump-start the peace process immediately sparked accusations he's betraying the country.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

KIM: On Sunday, thousands of protesters gathered on Independence Square in central Kyiv.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

KIM: Shouting no capitulation, demonstrators accused their new president of caving in to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The day after the protest, Ukrainians were still of two minds about Zelenskiy's initiative. Oleksandr Nasushchniy, an airport ground handler, says Zelenskiy is on the wrong path.

OLEKSANDR NASUSHCHNIY: It's a disaster for Ukraine, for Ukraine as an independent state.

KIM: But Maxim Matrosov, an entrepreneur, says he supports the president.

MAXIM MATROSOV: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: He says Ukrainians want peace and an end to protests, and that's why they voted for the Zelenskiy. But most people I talked to on Independence Square didn't have a strong opinion for or against the peace deal. In fact, one recent poll shows only about one-fifth of Ukrainians favor it and another fifth oppose it. President Zelenskiy has record approval ratings and is taking a gamble. Before the Trump phone call, Zelenskiy had been hoping the U.S. might play a more active role in the peace process. But now with Washington distracted by the impeachment inquiry, many Ukrainians fear he'll be dealing with Putin without American support.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Kyiv.


Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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