Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits frontline and hails 'strength' of troops

Volodymyr Zelenskyy awards a serviceman at the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian invaders in Bakhmut, Ukraine.
President Zelenskyy hailed the 'courage, resilience and strength' of the troops he met in Bakhmut. Credit: AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the eastern city of Bakhmut, the scene of some of the most intense combat since Russia invaded the country, on Tuesday.

During his trip he met with troops and praised their "courage, resilience and strength" as artillery boomed in the background.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also hailed the "courage and self-denial" of his forces in Ukraine, but he did so at a ceremony in an opulent hall at the Kremlin.

Both leaders sought to build morale as the stalemated conflict grinds through its tenth month and winter sets in.

President Zelenskyy met with military personnel in a dimly lit building - possibly a disused factory - in Bakhmut, which he has called "the hottest spot on the entire front line”, according to his office.

The city, about 600 kilometres (380 miles) east of Kyiv, has remained in Ukrainian hands, thwarting Moscow’s goal of capturing the rest of Donetsk province and the entire Donbas industrial region.

It was not clear how President Zelenskyy got to Bakhmut, but his unannounced trip appeared designed to dishearten the Russians trying to surround the city.

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"Bakhmut Fortress. Our people. Unconquered by the enemy. Who with their bravery prove that we will endure and will not give up what’s ours," he wrote on his Telegram channel.

"Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time goes by and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the wasted army of the occupiers," he added.

Russia’s invasion has lost momentum in recent months since it was launched in February.

The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested.

Capturing Bakhmut would sever Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on toward cities that are key Ukrainian strongholds in the province.

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian military contractor, are reported to be leading the charge in Bakhmut.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion, Russia-backed separatists had controlled parts of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk since 2014 - the two provinces together make up the Donbas.