Ukraine's Zelenskiy to Putin: Meet me for peace talks in conflict zone

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FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meets with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Kyiv
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By Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday challenged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet him in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region for talks on ending the conflict there and easing tensions between the two states.

Issuing the invitation in a video address in the late evening, Zelenskiy also urged Kyiv's Western backers to give "clear signals" that they were willing to support the country in its standoff with Russia.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for rising clashes in the Donbass, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Ukraine says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO have accused Russia of a "provocative" build-up of troops on Ukraine's eastern border and in Crimea. Russia in turn accused the United States and NATO of "provocative activity" in the Black Sea region.

"Mr Putin: I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbass, where there is a war," Zelenskiy said.

The standoff has prompted Ukraine to urge NATO member states to admit Ukraine into the military alliance. It also called on the European Union to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow but acknowledged that EU might not be prepared to do so yet.

"Our citizens need clear signals that in the eighth year of the war, a country that is a shield for Europe at the cost of its lives, will receive support not just as partners, from the stands, but as players on the same team, directly on the field, shoulder to shoulder," Zelenskiy said.

Ukraine wants to end the conflict through diplomacy but is ready to defend itself if attacked, he added.

"Does Ukraine want the war? No. But is Ukraine ready for the war? Yes."

(Writing by Matthias WilliamsEditing by Alistair Bell)

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