Zelensky pays tribute to soldiers fighting “painful” battle in Ukraine’s Donbas


“This is one of the toughest battles. Painful and difficult,” said Zelensky.

Kyiv, Ukraine:

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky on Sunday paid tribute to his soldiers who fought in the “painful and difficult” battle for the country’s frontline in the eastern Donbas region.

He was speaking after Ukraine’s General Staff reported that his forces had repelled “more than 130 enemy attacks” the previous day, including in Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

“The enemy continues its efforts to encircle the city of Bakhmut,” it said early Sunday in the eastern city that Moscow has been trying to capture for months.

Ukraine has vowed to defend “fortress Bakhmut”, which Russian troops seem determined to take. Analysts say the city, which was all but destroyed in the fighting, has little real strategic value.

But as what has become the longest and bloodiest battle of the conflict continues, fate has taken on a symbolic importance beyond its military meaning.

“I want to pay a special tribute to the courage, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in the Donbas,” Zelensky said in his daily speech.

“This is one of the hardest battles. Painful and difficult.”

The Donbas consists of Donetsk and Lugansk, which Russia claims to have annexed despite never fully controlling it.

The Ukrainian forces, Zelensky said, had “repulsed attacks, destroyed the occupier, undermined enemy positions and logistics, and protected our borders and cities.”

But on Saturday, the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) warned that Ukrainian supply routes to Bakhmut were shrinking.

“The Russians may have intended to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian command has indicated that it is likely to withdraw rather than risk an encirclement,” it added.

– Russian rivalry –

Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region posted a video supposedly showing Wagner fighters in the suburbs north of Bakhmut taking control of the Stupki train station.

Wagner, a private army led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is at the center of the battle for the city, which has revealed rivalries with Russia’s conventional forces.

As early as Friday, Prigozhin said his fighters had “virtually surrounded” Bakhmut and only one road remained under Ukrainian control.

Prigozhin, who has been publishing his men’s advance into the eastern city for weeks, posted on social media on Saturday saying they were coffins containing the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers being shipped to the Kyiv-controlled area.

Prigozhin regularly posts videos of himself next to mercenaries, on the ground or even in a fighter jet, in contrast to Russian generals who are criticized for avoiding the front lines.

In a rare exception, Russia on Saturday released video of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting troops in front-line areas in Ukraine.

The ministry said Shoigu inspected a forward command post in the direction of South Donetsk without specifying exactly where or when.

He was seen traveling in a helicopter and talking to a soldier in front of damaged buildings.

The ISW think tank said Shoigu went there “probably to assess the magnitude of Russian losses around Vugledar and the possibility of a further offensive in this direction”.

– Zaporizhzhia ‘hostage’ –

While the epicenter of the fighting is in the east, the death toll from a strike this week at an apartment building in southern Zaporizhia has risen to 13, the Ukrainian state emergency service said. Among the dead was a small child, the agency added.

The Ukrainian presidency also said Russian shelling killed five people on Saturday.

Zaporizhzhia is one of four regions – along with Donetsk, Lugansk and Kherson – that Russia claims to have annexed but never fully controlled.

But Moscow troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant since March 4, 2022.

The plant has repeatedly made headlines and revived fears of nuclear disasters similar to the deadly Chernobyl disaster that struck Ukraine in 1986.

The exiled mayor of Energodar, where the station is located, told AFP that Russia is using the plant as a “nuclear shield” for its troops and equipment.

After Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for shelling around the plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) placed observers there.

Zelensky said on Saturday that Russia had “held the plant hostage” a year ago and had “turned the territory of the (power plant) into a de facto military training ground”.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)

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