KYIV -- Thousands of Ukrainians gathered in downtown Kyiv on December 8 under the banner "Red Lines For Ze" and calling for a tough stance from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he joins the leaders of France, Germany, and Russia for peace talks in Paris on December 9.
It will be Zelenskiy's first official meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since he took over as Ukraine's president in May on campaign pledges to seek an end to the five-year war between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
Holding Ukrainian flags and banners reading “No compromises!” and “No surrender,” the crowd at Independence Square in the capital, the hub of unrest that eventually unseated a pro-Russian Ukrainian president five years ago, set out five "red lines" that it warned Zelenskiy not to cross in the upcoming talks.
They were: territorial integrity and no federalization, no compromise on Ukraine's pro-European course, no actions to legitimize the occupation of Ukrainian territory, insistence that Russian-occupied Crimea be returned, and no end to suits filed internationally over Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Zelenskiy and Putin's talks will be mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel under the so-called Normandy Format.
The leaders of Russia and Ukraine last met three years ago, when Petro Poroshenko was the Ukrainian president.
Addressing the protesters in Kyiv on December 8, Poroshenko said that if peace means “a surrender of Ukrainian interests, it is not peace but capitulation.”
He gave tips to Zelenskiy ahead of the Paris meeting, saying: "Don't believe Putin" and "Don't be afraid of Putin."
"We are in a difficult situation, but we're flying to Paris with a very strong position," Zelenskiy's spokeswoman, Julia Mendel, wrote on Facebook, saying Kyiv is enjoying support from Germany, France, the United States, and Britain, as well as "the Ukrainian people who want the end of the war."
Yet "the war in Donbas will not end on December 10," Mendel added.
Moscow has maintained it is not a party to the ongoing eastern Ukrainian war despite considerable evidence to the contrary, including captured Russian fighters and Russian ties to the weapon and individuals deemed responsible for the downing over rebel-held territory of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, which killed all 283 passengers and crew.
The International Criminal Court concluded in 2016 that the eastern Ukrainian conflict was "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."