Ukraine’s celebration of its Independence Day each August 24 was taking place this year after presidential and parliamentary elections that had resulted in the country having a new Head of State, new parliament and new government, Ambassador to Hungary Liubov Nepop told guests at a reception in Budapest’s Museum of Military History on September 6, 2019.

Ambassador Nepop said President Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected with huge support from the population of Ukraine and his party after receiving a majority in the parliament, and was able to form the government without any coalition.

Zelensky won the presidential election on April 21 this year with 73.22% of the vote and was sworn in on May 20. Ambassador Nepop said that since then the practical work has started and the first task remains to stop Russian aggression against Ukraine.

President Zelensky had expressed his strong willingness to end the war in Donbas, eastern Ukraine, as soon as possible, the ambassador said. "But we all understand that it depends first of all on willingness and readiness of Russia to stop its aggression," she said.

"We are ready to go forward to restore our territorial integrity and peace, but without unacceptable compromises.

"In the previous period we managed to prevent further escalation of Russian aggression thanks to our army, volunteers and the dedication of our people. But also thanks to the wide international support.

"I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all our partners for being with us and supporting us. And we need your further support to stop aggression. It is our priority number one."

The Independence Day of Ukraine is the main state holiday each August 24 in commemoration of the Declaration of Independence of 1991, prior to which Ukraine was a Soviet republic. In 2014, in response to the Ukrainian "Euromaidan" civil unrest that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia annexed Crimea and provoked a war in eastern Ukraine. The ensuing conflict still claims lives today.

Ambassador Nepop said that at the same time as trying to end Russian aggression, Ukraine will make its best efforts to speed up reforms and make the country really attractive for foreign investments and business.

"Head of Government Oleksiy Honcharuk stated that we have an ambitious goal to achieve 40% increase of our GDP in the next five years and make Ukraine’s economy really flexible and fast developing," she said.

"As Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko emphasised, we will base our foreign policy on the unchangeable political values and principles but make it more pragmatic and result-oriented from the economic point of view.

"We will continue our course towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration, enshrined in our Constitution. We will use a sensible, creative but principled approach to upgrade good relations with our neighbours.

"In this regard we count on positive development of the Ukrainian-Hungarian relations as well. We will continue our way forward, way of changes and chances. Let’s take these chances together.

"We count on you in restoring territorial integrity and peace, and we count on you in using economic opportunities."

# Ambassador Nepop and Colonel Volodymyr Kalitynskyi, Defence, Air Attaché

The day after Ambassador Nepop hosted the celebration, Ukraine and Russia swapped dozens of prisoners on September 7 in a long-anticipated exchange that President Zelensky hailed as "the first step to end the war" between the two bitterly estranged neighbours.

Welcoming 35 freed Ukrainians at the airport in Kiev, Zelensky said he had spoken by telephone with Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, and reached an agreement "on the first stage to unblock our dialogue and on the first step to stop the war".

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany welcomed the exchange as a "hopeful sign". She has been deeply involved in the so far fruitless efforts to stop the fighting, which has killed more than 13,000 people, many of them civilians.

United States President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the exchange was "very good news, perhaps a first giant step to peace". Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said of the release, "Finally!" He wrote on Twitter: "I continue my call on Russia to release all political prisoners and respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity."

But there is little sign that Putin, whose autocratic rule appeals to Russian nationalism, is willing to stop supporting pro-Russian separatist fighters whom Ukraine views as terrorists. He has firmly ruled out any possibility of returning Crimea.

Putin denies many evil actions, including voter fraud at home and interfering in Western elections, killing opponents including an estimated 21 journalists, trying to poison people in the UK, holding compromising information on Trump, being involved in shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 with the loss of all 298 people on board, and using his position to become the richest man on Earth.

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