Zelensky visits Bakhmut troops who are stepping into the bloodiest combat; Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, paid an unannounced visit to the soldiers defending Bakhmut on Tuesday. The city is currently the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the war as Russian forces try desperately to take the eastern Donetsk region.
The president’s visit, which was documented on his Telegram channel and the Facebook page of his spokesman, occurred on the 300th day of Russia’s full-scale invasion and brought attention to the carnage in Bakhmut, where Russian forces, including mercenaries, have been vying for months to win a military victory after a string of setbacks and retreats in the south and east of Ukraine.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s distance from the front, where critics claim he has deployed thousands of conscripts, many of whom lack proper equipment or training, has been contrasted by Ukrainian officials with Zelensky’s visits to forward positions or recently liberated cities, such as Bucha, where he donned body armor, and Kherson, where he posed for selfies with happy soldiers.
And Tuesday provided a powerful illustration.
Zelensky was awarding medals to soldiers in the vicinity of the artillery barrages in the beleaguered Bakhmut. At the same time, Putin hosted a government award ceremony in the Kremlin to honor Margarita Simonyan, the head of the RT network, who thanked Putin for “whacking the cannibals” in Ukraine.
In addition to visiting a top military official’s headquarters on Friday, Putin drove a Mercedes across a bridge to Crimea that Ukrainian forces had destroyed earlier this month in October. However, Putin has not been seen with soldiers close to the battlegrounds of the conflict he started almost ten months ago.
Zelensky praised his soldiers in a Telegram post: “Unconquered by the enemy, whose bravery proves that we will endure and will not relinquish what is ours.”
“Bakhmut is fighting, so the East is holding out. This is the stronghold of our spirit, Zelensky declared in another social media post. “Freedom is being defended here for all of us in bloody battles and at great personal cost.”
While the president of Bakhmut has traveled to risky areas, including Izyum, soon after its liberation in the northeastern Kharkiv region, it was unclear where else he had been. It was also unclear how close to the front lines he had gone.
Zelensky was seen in a video released by a state-run media outlet standing by a table with 17 medals on display while donning an army green winter jacket. Zelensky then enthusiastically shook hands with soldiers as he presented each award.
According to a statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday, Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the front lines for a rare inspection of “advanced positions of Russian units” in the area of combat. Shoigu was seen in a helicopter flying over unidentified fortifications in “areas of troop deployment” in a ministry video.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a financier for Wagner, urged Zelensky in a video message to meet up near Bakhmut to talk about “whose land is where.”
The St. Petersburg businessman is seen directing the firing of an artillery round from a group of fighters aiming at Bakhmut in videos released by Prigozhin’s press service. Due to his involvement in election meddling and funding of mercenaries who violated human rights in Africa, Priogozhin is subject to sanctions from the United States and the European Union.
Pro-war In light of Ukraine’s impending loss of the city, Russian bloggers mocked Zelensky’s visit as an effort to increase Ukrainian support for the overall conflict.
Fighting along a roughly 620-mile front in eastern Ukraine has continued at a slower pace since the Russian surrender of Kherson last month.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russia has increased ground attacks since Sunday in several locations along the front, including close to Donetsk, the regional capital, and Kreminna, a city further to the north in the Luhansk region.
Three workers were killed on Tuesday when an explosion shook a section of the Urengoi-Pomary-Uzhhorod gas pipeline, one of the few remaining routes delivering a small amount of Russian fuel to Western Europe through Ukraine. East of Moscow, in the Chuvashia region, there was an explosion. According to Russia’s emergency services, the gas flare-up happened during planned maintenance.