The 48-year-old billionaire took the oath of office before
parliament, buoyed by Western support but facing an immediate crisis
in relations with Russia as a separatist uprising seethes in the
east of his country.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March, weeks after street
protests ousted Poroshenko's pro-Moscow predecessor, Viktor
Yanukovich, in a move that has provoked the deepest crisis in
relations with the West since the Cold War.
"Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we
settle our relations with Russia. Russia occupied Crimea, which was,
is, and will be Ukrainian soil," Poroshenko said in a speech that
drew a standing ovation.
He had told this to Russia's Vladimir Putin when the two met on
Friday at a World War Two anniversary ceremony in France, he said.
Poroshenko, who earned his fortune as a confectionery entrepreneur
and is known locally as the "Chocolate King", said he intended very
soon to sign the economic part of an association agreement with the
European Union, as a first step towards full membership.
This idea is anathema to Moscow, which wants to keep Ukraine in its
own post-Soviet sphere of influence.
His voice swelling with emotion, Poroshenko stressed the need for a
united Ukraine and the importance of ending the conflict that
threatens to further split the country of 45 million people. He said
it would not become a looser federalized state, as advocated by
"There can be no trade-off about Crimea and about the European
choice and about the governmental system. All other things can be
negotiated and discussed at the negotiation table. Any attempts at
internal or external enslavement of Ukraine will meet with resolute
resistance," Poroshenko said.
Poroshenko, Ukraine's fifth president since independence, won a
landslide election on May 25 after promising to bridge the east-west
divide that has split the country and thrust it into a battle for
Ukrainians hope the election of Poroshenko, who is married with four
children, will bring an end to the most tumultuous period in their
More than 100 people were shot dead by police in Kiev by police in
the street protests that eventually brought Yanukovich down and in
the east, scores of people, including separatist fighters and
government forces have been killed in fighting since April.
The uprising in the east is not the only challenge facing
Poroshenko, who inherits a country on the verge of bankruptcy, still
dependent on Russia for natural gas and rated by watchdogs as one of
the most corrupt and ill-governed states in Europe.
The forceful speech by Poroshenko, who served as foreign minister
and minister for economic development in previous administrations,
drew an ovation from guests and VIPs who included Lithuanian
President Dalia Grybauskaite, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and
senior EU officials.
Cheering crowds later greeted him on a walk in blazing sunshine on
the square in front of Kiev's St Sophia's Cathedral, which was
decked out with the blue and yellow national flags.
EASTERN WAR ZONE
Since Poroshenko's election, government forces have stepped up their
operations against the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine who want
to split with Kiev and become part of Russia.
The rebels have fought back, turning parts of the Russian-speaking
east into a war zone. On Friday they shot down a Ukrainian army
plane and killed a member of the interior ministry's special forces
in the separatist stronghold of Slaviansk.
Poroshenko vowed to have no truck with "bandits" but urged
pro-Moscow separatists to lay down their arms, offering a guarantee
to provide a safe corridor for Russian fighters to go home.
"Please, lay down the guns and I guarantee immunity to all those who
don't have bloodshed on their hands."
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He spelled out, too, a conciliatory message to the people of the
east. Switching to Russian from Ukrainian to address them, he said
they had been duped by myths about Kiev leaders, stoked by Russian
propaganda and the Yanukovich "clan". He separately accused
Yanukovich of "financing terrorists".
He promised to visit the east with guarantees of Russian-language
rights and proposals for decentralization that would give their
regions a bigger say in running their own affairs.
But a jarring
message from the eastern rebels, who have declared their own
"people's republics", spelled out the scale of the separatist
challenge facing him.
"What they (Kiev's leaders) really want is one-sided disarmament and
for us to surrender. That will never happen in the Donetsk People's
Republic," a top separatist official, Fyodor Berezin, said by
telephone from Donetsk, an industrial hub where rebels have occupied
"As long as Ukrainian troops are on our soil, I can see that all
Poroshenko wants is subjugation. The fight will continue," he said.
Government forces shelled rebel positions in Slaviansk on Saturday
and manned checkpoints on roads into the city.
Inna, 38, who was leaving the city by foot with her mother and
grandmother, said: "All you hear is shelling and bombing. Yesterday
entire houses burnt down."
"We've been hiding in the cellar for three days and we finally
decided to leave. There is no water or electricity" she said as she
made her way out, carrying bags of food and clothes and flasks of
In the days leading up to his inauguration, Poroshenko met both U.S.
President Barack Obama, who warmly endorsed his leadership, as well
as Russia's Putin.
At a brief meeting in France, where they were attending World War
Two commemorations, French officials said Poroshenko and Putin shook
hands and agreed that detailed talks on a ceasefire between Kiev
government forces and the pro-Russian separatists would begin within
a few days.
Russia denounced the overthrow of pro-Moscow President Viktor
Yanukovich and has accused the Ukrainian authorities of worsening
the crisis in the east by resorting to military force instead of
It denies accusations by Kiev and Western governments that it is
supporting the rebels and allowing fighters from Russia to cross
into Ukraine to fight with the rebels.
Putin told reporters he welcomed proposals set out by Poroshenko for
ending the conflict. However he declined to say what they were and
said Ukraine must halt what he called "punitive" military operations
against pro-Russian separatists.
The two countries are also at odds over the pricing of Russian
natural gas, with Moscow threatening to cut supplies as early as
next week unless Ukraine settles its debt, the amount of which is
(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove in Slaviansk and Alissa de
Carbonnel in Luhansk; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Richard
Balmforth; Editing by David Holmes and Raissa Kasolowsky)
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