Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) greets U.S. Senator John McCain during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, December 30, 2016. Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
KIEV (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator John McCain promised on Saturday continued support for Kiev in the face of aggression from Moscow, as he spent New Year's Eve on the front line in Ukraine's eastern conflict zone.
McCain was one of a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators who sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump in December, urging him to take a tough line against Russia over what they termed its "military land grab" in Ukraine.
"I send the message from the American people - we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together," McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko's press service.
"In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin - you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom," McCain said after a visit to a military base in the southeastern town of Shyrokyne.
Trump signalled during his campaign that he might take a softer line in dealings with Moscow, repeatedly praising Russian President Putin's leadership.
Trump's election caused jitters in Ukraine but officials in Kiev hope that the incoming president's policies, influenced by Republican hawks and a Republican-voting Ukrainian diaspora, will be friendlier towards Ukraine than his campaign rhetoric might have suggested.
Ukraine has relied on Western support and economic aid since street protests in 2014 which toppled a Kremlin-backed president and were followed by a war with pro-Russian separatists and Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.
(Reporting by Sergei Karazy; Writing by Alessandra Prentice)