Ukraine war: Zelensky visits frontline troops in Donbas


President Volodymyr Zelensky has paid a visit to Ukrainian troops on the frontline in Donbas, putting himself within easy range of Russian artillery to hand out bravery medals amid a major counter-attack in the region.

Zelensky was filmed meeting with his men inside bunkers in Lysychansk and Bakhmut – just a few hundred yards from the frontline – on Sunday, shaking hands with soldiers and speaking about the situation with his commanders.

‘I want to thank you for your great work, for your service, for protecting all of us, our state. I am grateful to everyone,’ he told them. ‘Take care of yourselves!’ 

It is not Zelensky’s first visit to the front or his first outside of Kyiv – he visited Kharkiv last month while fighting was still ongoing north of the city – but the latest excursion does take him closer to the frontline than ever before.  

And it comes amid major fighting along the front, with Ukrainian forces launching a surprise counter-attack in the city of Severodonetsk at the weekend and pushing back Russian troops which had appeared on the verge of seizing it.

President Zelensky is pictured holding up a Ukrainian flag alongside one of his soldiers fighting on the frontlines in Donbas in an unexpected visit to the front

Zelensky visited troops in Lysychansk and Bakhmut, according to the presidential office, in a trip that will have taken him just a few hundred yards from the front

Zelensky visited troops in Lysychansk and Bakhmut, according to the presidential office, in a trip that will have taken him just a few hundred yards from the front

The president used his visit to shake hands with troops and issue medals, as well as getting and in-person update from commanders

The president used his visit to shake hands with troops and issue medals, as well as getting and in-person update from commanders

Zelensky's visit too him within just a few hundred yards of the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, as counter-attacks take place across the country

Zelensky’s visit too him within just a few hundred yards of the frontlines in eastern Ukraine, as counter-attacks take place across the country

Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province where Severodonetsk is located, said in a Sunday update that Ukraine is now in control of more than 50 per cent of the city – while analysts at the Institute for the Study of War put the figure at 70 per cent.

It marks a remarkable turnaround from the situation late last week, when Russia was in control of 80 per cent of the city and Haidai was saying he would be willing to order Ukraine’s forces to retreat if the order came down from Kyiv.

It also raises fresh questions about whether Putin will be able to achieve even his most-modest of war aims – the capture of Donbas – after failing miserably in a bold early effort to take Kyiv, and what will happen to him if defeat becomes unavoidable.

Ukraine is now involved in counter-attacks on almost every front, seizing more territory to the north of Kharkiv at the weekend while also trading territory with Russia to the west of Kherson in a series of punches and counter-punches. 

No side has yet emerged dominant, but time favours Ukraine as more reinforcements and Western weapons arrive at the front to bolster its forces while Russia’s invasion force is whittled down as men and equipment are destroyed in combat.

Zelensky said he also travelled to Zaporizhzhia in the southeast to meet with residents of Mariupol who had managed to leave the port city before it fell to Russia.

‘Each family has its own story. Most were without men,’ he said.

‘Someone’s husband went to war, someone’s is in captivity, someone’s, unfortunately, died. 

Zelensky also paid a visit to Zaporizhzhia - close to Mariupol where many of those who evacuated the city as it was bombed by Russia are now staying

Zelensky also paid a visit to Zaporizhzhia – close to Mariupol where many of those who evacuated the city as it was bombed by Russia are now staying

Zelensky is pictured listening to an update from one of his commanders during a visit to Lysychansk, on the Donbas frontline, late Sunday

Zelensky is pictured listening to an update from one of his commanders during a visit to Lysychansk, on the Donbas frontline, late Sunday

Zelensky is given an update from his commanders during a visit to Bakhmut, another key city in Donbas, on Sunday night

Zelensky is given an update from his commanders during a visit to Bakhmut, another key city in Donbas, on Sunday night

‘A tragedy. No home, no loved one. But we must live for the children. True heroes – they are among us.’

Zelensky’s trip to the battlefield gave him an important firsthand view of military operations and was a morale booster for his frontline troops, former Australian army general Mick Ryan said.

It also demonstrated ‘he has total trust in his army’ and served to heighten the contrast between his leadership style and that of his Russian opponent Vladimir Putin.

‘An important characteristic demonstrated by Zelensky is his willingness to take personal risk to visit soldiers in the field, and get his own sense of how military operations are unfolding,’ Ryan tweeted Monday.

‘This is an important way that Zelensky differentiates himself from his adversary.

‘I am pretty sure that Putin will not be accepting invitations to visit the poorly fed and led – but well armed – Russian troops in Ukraine at any point in the near future.’

Zelensky previously visited frontlines at the end of May, while there is no indication Putin has been anywhere near the battlefield since he launched his invasion.

Sunday also brought the first Russian missile strikes on Kyiv since April 28.

‘High-precision, long-range missiles fired by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by eastern European countries and other armoured vehicles that were in hangars,’ a Russian defence ministry spokesman said.

A Ukrainian soldier is pictured near a defensive position in Bakhmut, close to the frontline with Russian in the eastern Donbas region

A Ukrainian soldier is pictured near a defensive position in Bakhmut, close to the frontline with Russian in the eastern Donbas region

A Ukrainian soldier uses a grenade launcher to open fire on Russian attackers near the city of Bakmut, in the eastern Donbas region

A Ukrainian soldier uses a grenade launcher to open fire on Russian attackers near the city of Bakmut, in the eastern Donbas region

A Ukrainian soldier equipped with a British NLAW anti-tank launcher on the lookout for Russian armoured vehicles near Bakhmut, Donbas

A Ukrainian soldier equipped with a British NLAW anti-tank launcher on the lookout for Russian armoured vehicles near Bakhmut, Donbas

One person was wounded, and AFP reporters saw several buildings with blown-out windows near one of the sites that were targeted.

Ukraine has asked supporting countries for ever more powerful arms to fend off the Russian attack, and its deputy defence minister stressed Sunday this support was needed until Moscow was defeated.

The United States last week said it would supply Ukraine with advanced missile systems, the latest in a long list of weaponry sent or pledged to the pro-Western country.

But Putin said long-range missile supplies to Ukraine meant ‘we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our arms… to strike targets we haven’t hit before’.

Unveiling the latest UK contribution, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted Ukraine’s Western allies must maintain their weapons deliveries to enable it to win.

The UK Ministry of Defence said London had coordinated closely with Washington over its gift of the multiple-launch rocket systems, known as MLRS.

The M270 launchers, which can strike targets up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) away with precision-guided rockets, will ‘offer a significant boost in capability for the Ukrainian forces’, the ministry added.

Western powers have imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on Russia but divisions have emerged on how to act, particularly on whether to engage in dialogue with Russia.

Speaking from the apostolic palace in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis on Sunday renewed calls for ‘real negotiations’ to end what he called the ‘increasingly dangerous escalation’ of the war.

Russian troops now occupy a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Kyiv, and Moscow has imposed a blockade on its Black Sea ports, sparking fears of a global food crisis.

Ukraine and Russia are among the top wheat exporters in the world.

The United Nations said it was leading intense negotiations with Russia to allow Ukraine’s grain harvest to leave the country.

An eldery woman walks in front of destroyed houses after a missile strike which killed one civilians in the city of Druzhkivka, in Donbas

An eldery woman walks in front of destroyed houses after a missile strike which killed one civilians in the city of Druzhkivka, in Donbas

People clean the debris from their destroyed house after a missile strike, which killed an old woman, in the city of Druzhkivka, Donbas

People clean the debris from their destroyed house after a missile strike, which killed an old woman, in the city of Druzhkivka, Donbas



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