Ukraine's new president, Petro Poroshenko, said his country would never give up Crimea and would not compromise on its course towards closer ties with Europe, spelling out a combative and defiant message to Russia in his inaugural speech yesterday.
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.
Watch: Ukraine's Poroshenko sworn in as president
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March, weeks after street protests ousted Poroshenko's pro-Moscow predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, 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 second world war anniversary ceremony in France, he said.
Poroshenko, who earned his fortune as a chocolate confectionery entrepreneur, 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.
Poroshenko stressed Ukraine would not become a looser federalised state, as advocated by Russia."There can be no trade-off about Crimea and about the European choice and about the governmental system," he said.
Poroshenko 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 survival.
The forceful speech by Poroshenko drew an ovation from guests and VIPs, who included US 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.
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.
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.
But a jarring message from the eastern rebels, who have declared their own "people's republics", spelled out the scale of the 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 in Donetsk.
"As long as Ukrainian troops are on our soil ... all Poroshenko wants is subjugation. The fight will continue," he said.