KYIV, UKRAINE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has launched his campaign for re-election in March's vote, which promises to be a bitter contest between him and a former prime minister.
Addressing supporters in the capital Kiev, Poroshenko laid out his hopes that Ukraine pushes on with efforts to join the European Union and NATO if he were to win another five-year term in office.
"We have to safeguard [Ukraine's] integration with the European Union and NATO," he said. "We must not stop half-way there."
Poroshenko's main rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, entered the race last week, promising to regain control of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula and the separatist-held areas in the east. She accused Poroshenko and his associates of profiting from the ongoing separatist conflict there.
Opinion polls have shown Poroshenko trailing behind Tymoshenko. Some have even placed comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy second, ahead of Poroshenko.
Long before Tuesday's announcement, the president had sought to bolster his sagging public support by spearheading efforts to secure the independence of the Ukrainian church from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Earlier this month, Poroshenko toured Ukraine with the Tomos, a scroll containing the decree of the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarch granting independence to the new Ukrainian Orthodox church. Billboards with Poroshenko holding the scroll line the main highway linking Kiev's airport and the city center.
Ukraine's prime minister and speaker of the parliament spoke at the congress in support of Poroshenko's bid.