KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy paid a surprise visit on Tuesday to the frontline city of Bakhmut, where he hailed the «superhuman» troops waging a battle that has come to symbolise the grinding brutality of the war in Ukraine.
Zelenskiy’s office released video footage showing the president, dressed in khaki, handing out medals to soldiers inside a ramshackle industrial complex in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region.
He urged them to maintain morale as the battle for Bakhmut enters its fifth month, increasingly straining the Ukrainian and Russian armies.
«Motivate those who are near you, those who might be weaker,» Zelenskiy said, with the boom of artillery audible in the distance.
Control of the city, which had a pre-war population of 70,000-80,000, could give Russia a stepping stone to advance on bigger Ukrainian cities but Ukrainian forces have held on to Bakhmut.
Images flooding social media in recent weeks have depicted grim scenes of decimated landscapes and mud-filled trenches. Ukraine’s continuing hold on the city has fuelled a sense of defiance among the population.
«The East is holding out because Bakhmut is fighting,» Zelenskiy wrote in a message accompanying the vide on Telegram. «In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us.»
«Bakhmut defenders deserve our maximum support and our highest gratitude. That’s why I am with them today,» he wrote. «They are superhumans. They are our strength and our heroes.»
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)