In a meeting with troops on Tuesday in the eastern city of Bakhmut, the site of some of the fiercest fighting since Russia invaded the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised their “courage, resilience, and strength” as artillery blasted in the distance.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, praised the “courage and self-denial” of his troops in Ukraine, but he did so at a ceremony inside the Kremlin in Moscow, not on the battlefield.
As winter sets in and the stalemated conflict enters its tenth month, both leaders tried to boost morale.
In Bakhmut, Zelenskky met with military personnel in a dimly lit structure that may have once been a factory. Zelenskky has referred to this location as “the hottest spot on the entire front line,” according to his office. Moscow’s plan to seize the remainder of Donetsk province and the entire Donbas industrial region was thwarted by the city, which is located about 600 kilometers (380 miles) east of Kyiv.
In an unannounced trip that seemed to be intended to demonstrate Moscow’s failure to take the city and dishearten the Russians attempting to surround it, the Ukrainian leader informed the troops that he traveled through Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Druzhkivka to reach Bakhmut.
The Feb. 24 invasion by Russia has slowed down. Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia, which were illegitimately annexed, are still hotly contested. Bakhmut’s capture would cut off Ukraine’s supply lines and provide Russian forces with a path toward important Ukrainian strongholds in the Donetsk region.
According to reports, the Wagner Group, a dubious Russian military contractor, is leading the attack in Bakhmut. Russia-backed separatists had been in charge of some areas of Donetsk and the neighboring city of Luhansk since 2014 prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion. Together, the two provinces make up the Donbas.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, was seen in unverified videos standing next to an artillery piece and declaring he was prepared to meet Zelenskyy in Bakhmut. In a statement accompanying the videos, Prigozhin’s spokespeople relayed a message to Zelenskyy reading: “If you haven’t left Bakhmut yet, I’m ready to meet you. Prigozhin.” It wasn’t clear from the videos where they were shot or when.
Putin gave awards to the leaders of the four regions of Ukraine that were forcibly annexed at the Kremlin ceremony.
In addition, Putin urged counterintelligence agents to intensify their efforts to “derail activities by foreign spy agencies and swiftly track down traitors, spies, and saboteur.”
In the meantime, British authorities provided a pessimistic assessment of how the war is going for Russia.
According to U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, 100,000 Russian soldiers were “dead, injured, or have deserted” during the invasion. Wallace did not provide a number for Ukrainian casualties, but a senior U.S. military official recently estimated that about 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and injured.
Losses in the military command in Russia as well as the destruction of equipment have cost lives. Wallace told the House of Commons’ lawmakers that none of the operational commanders who were in charge on February 24 are still in charge. “Numerous generals and commanding officers have left Russia.”
Large areas of land have been successfully reclaimed by Ukraine’s counteroffensive. According to a tweet from the U.K. Ministry of Defense, Ukraine has liberated about 54% of the total additional territory that Russia seized during the invasion after 300 days of fighting. It was unclear what percentage of Ukrainian territory Russia had at its height of power.
Including the portions of the Donbas and Crimea that it previously seized, Russia now controls about 18% of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territories.
Zelenskyy’s office reported that since Monday, when Russian forces attacked nine southeast areas, at least five civilians have been killed and eight have been injured as a result of the ongoing battles.
Moscow has attacked Ukraine’s power infrastructure with missiles and drones as the fighting in the east has reached a standstill in an effort to deprive residents of electricity as winter weather approaches.
With the reopening of two of Kyiv’s main subway stations for the first time since the war started, life in the Ukrainian capital took a small but welcome step toward normality. Like the other underground stations in the capital, Maidan Nezalezhnosti and Khreschatyk’s major intersections have served as air raid shelters.