It was not immediately clear where the president visited in Bakhmut or how close he was to front-line positions. Amid heavy fighting in recent days, some military analysts said the Russians were making increasing advances and warned that Ukrainian forces were at risk of being outflanked.
“The president visited the outposts of one of the mechanized brigades whose members confront the enemy as they approach the city,” the Facebook post said. “The head of state listened to the commander’s report on the operational situation, material and technical support and suggestions for further measures. While in the combat zone, Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian soldiers for the courage, resilience and strength they showed by repelling enemy attacks.
video released By a state-run media outlet, it showed Zelensky, dressed in an army green winter jacket, standing at a table with 17 medals on display, then shaking hands with soldiers warmly as he handed each award. Zelensky also posted about the visit on his official Telegram channel.
Ukrainian officials have sought to contrast Zelensky’s willingness to visit his troops at front-line sites or in recently liberated cities, such as Kherson, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent lack of trips to the front lines, where critics say Russia has proliferated. Thousands of recruits, many without proper equipment or training.
Military analysts wondered why Putin was willing to pay such a high price for the capture of Bakhmut, which lacked obvious strategic importance.
Much of the Russian fighting at Bakhmut fell to the lot of Wagner’s group, A.J Russian mercenary company. In his Monday evening address, Zelensky called Bakhmut “the hottest spot” on the front.
For weeks, the Ukrainians defied predictions that Bakhmut was on the brink of ceding Russian control. Russian forces tried to surround the city, which led to bloody battles for additional gains in the south, east and in some suburban areas outside the city, according to military analysts.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Monday that Ukrainian forces said they repelled an additional attempt by Wagner fighters in the northeastern part of the city.
Russian military bloggers have responded to reports about Zelensky’s visit by claiming that it reflects an attempt to support Ukraine for the broader war before its loss of the city.
Fighting continued at a slower pace along a roughly 620-mile front in eastern Ukraine.
The Institute for the Study of War also reported that Russia has stepped up ground offensives since Sunday in several areas along the front, including near the regional capital Donetsk and the far northern city of Kremina in the Luhansk region. Speculation escalated Ukraine may try to launch an offensive south through the Zaporizhia region, aiming to sever the Russian-controlled “land bridge” between mainland Russia and Crimea, which was illegally invaded and annexed in 2014.
In his speech on Monday, Zelensky said the fight for Bakhmut was “breaking” the Russian forces. The Ukrainian military earlier estimated that up to 100 Russian soldiers were being killed every day in Bakhmut.
“Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time is running out,” Zelensky said. “Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the lost soldiers of the occupiers,” he added.
Stern reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Marie Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this story.
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