- Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to the frontline Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on Tuesday.
- Russian forces have spent months attacking the city, and fighting has recently intensified.
- Zelenskyy spent the risky trip presenting several Ukrainian soldiers with medals.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise trip to the frontline city of Bakhmut on Tuesday, one of his riskiest visits to see troops since the war began nearly 10 months ago.
During his visit, Zelenskyy listened to a report detailing the ongoing fighting, gave awards to soldiers of several units who are defending the city, and held a moment of silence for those who have been killed on the battlefield, according to the country’s presidential office.
The office did not specify how close Zelenskyy got to the Russian lines, though it said he visited the “frontline” positions of a mechanized brigade “confronting the enemy on the approaches to the city.”
Zelenskyy posted photographs to his Telegram on Tuesday showing him shaking hands with Ukrainian soldiers and awarding them medals in Bakhmut.
“The East is holding out because Bakhmut is fighting. This is the fortress of our morale. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us,” Zelenskyy wrote later on Telegram. “Bakhmut defenders deserve our maximum support and our highest gratitude. That’s why I am with them today. They are superhumans. They are our strength and our heroes.”
—Stratcom Centre UA (@StratcomCentre) December 20, 2022
Zelenskyy’s visit on Tuesday is the latest high-profile trip that the Ukrainian leader has made to cities and towns near the frontlines since the war began, and one of the riskiest due to the intensity of fighting in the area. By contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin has avoided coming close to the conflict that he started earlier this year.
For months, Russian forces have been trying to capture Bakhmut, a city with a pre-war population of over 70,000 people in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. During a nightly address, Zelenskyy called it the “hottest spot” of the war’s entire front.
In addition to the Russian soldiers attacking the city, mercenaries from the infamous Wagner Group paramilitary organization have played a “major role” in fighting around the city, Britain’s defense ministry said in a Monday intelligence update.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy said this week that Russia has suffered nearly 100,000 casualties while fighting in Ukraine. His comments echo recent estimates by UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and top US Gen. Mark Milley, who have both said that they estimate Russian casualties have passed 100,000.