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Ukraine PM says improvement to welfare can only come after economy returns to growth

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KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's prime minister says there will be no increase to welfare payments until the poverty-stricken country emerges from its security and economic crisis.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk told lawmakers Friday that the immediate priority lay in restoring the health of the economy, which the International Monetary Fund sees shrinking by 5.5 percent this year.

The government believes Ukraine will return to growth in 2016, although that projection is hostage to events in industrial eastern regions where fighting continues against Russian-backed separatists. Yatsenyuk says the conflict that has raged over the past year has cost Ukraine the loss of one-fifth of its economy.

Efforts to pare back Ukraine's welfare system and sharp increases to utility prices mandated by international creditors are compounding pain in a country already blighted by deep poverty.

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