Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has made a surprise visit to Slavyansk, an eastern town recently recaptured by government forces from pro-Russian militants.
Poroshenko met residents of the town and promised to restore its damaged infrastructure soon.
He spoke to soldiers who took part in the battle to retake the town, saying Ukraine's independence is at stake in government forces' current operation.
He added that the government is ready to hold talks with whoever is willing to lay down arms and sit for political dialogue.
Government troops have already taken back at least 6 towns that served as strongholds for anti-government forces. Fighting in Slavyansk was among the fiercest.
The troops are stepping up an offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russian militants are concentrating forces in the central cities of the regions.
The government's national security and defense council said on Tuesday that the military is preparing to encircle the militants' strongholds.
Jul. 9, 2014 - Updated 07:11 UTC