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Ukraine's Zelensky visits rebel front line

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Kiev (AFP)

Just a week after taking office, Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelensky made his first visit Monday to the front line of fighting against Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country, his press office said.

Zelensky, who was an actor and comedian before being elected as leader, "examined Ukraine's military positions at Stanytsya Luganska and Shchastya," the president's office said in a statement, referring to two sites in the self-proclaimed republic of Lugansk, which broke away from Kiev in 2014 and is run by Moscow-backed rebels.

"The closest positions to the rebels were just 400 metres (1,300 feet) away," it said.

On the pictures released by his office, Zelensky can be seen in civilian garb but wearing a military helmet and khaki-coloured bullet-proof vest.

He is pictured in a shelter or marching with soldiers through fields.

Experiencing at first hand the conditions in which the soldiers were living, Zelensky "noted the necessity of improving them," the president's office said.

The 41-year-old comedian without any political experience was elected as Ukraine's youngest post-Soviet president in April in landslide victory over the incumbent Petro Poroshenko with a campaign capitalising on widespread discontent with the political establishment.

During his campaign, Zelensky's detractors questioned his ability to run a country that has been at war with Russia for five years and in which 13,000 people have been killed.

While he is prepared to negotiate with the Kremlin, Zelensky wants to regain the territories currently under rebel control.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of providing weapons to the rebels, charges which Moscow denies.

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