KIEV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko made an unannounced one-day visit to his country's peacekeepers in Iraq days before the troops were to leave the war zone.
The 867 Ukrainian soldiers have served as a part of the U.S.-led coalition under Polish command in southern and central Iraq. All are due home by Friday, making the former Soviet nation the latest country to wind down its presence in the coalition.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Monday that 455 troops have already returned home.
Yushchenko plans to visit troops at the Ukrainian headquarters base in the town of Al Kut, said presidential spokeswoman Irina Gerashchenko.
He will also meet top Iraqi officials to discuss Ukraine's role in the reconstruction of the country, she said.
Ukraine initially contributed 1,650 troops to the U.S.-led force in Iraq.
The government began withdrawing the troops in March, and President Yushchenko had pledged they would be out by the year's end. The Western-leaning Ukrainian leader, who was elected in December last year, made a pullout from Iraq one of his campaign promises.
Eighteen Ukrainian soldiers died and 32 others were wounded in Iraq.
Some 50 Ukrainian military instructors will remain after the pullout to train Iraqi troops.
Ukraine initially strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq but later contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition, becoming one of the largest non- NATO participants.
The deployment was mainly seen as an effort by then-President Leonid Kuchma to repair relations with Washington, damaged by allegations about illicit sales of Ukrainian radar systems to Saddam Hussein's regime.