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Zelensky visits front line near Bakhmut as Russia targets cities

March 22, 2023
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during visit to Bakhmut. — courtesy Ukraine’s Presidential Office
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during visit to Bakhmut. — courtesy Ukraine’s Presidential Office

KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has returned to the front line near Bakhmut where fighting has raged for months.

The devastated city has long been a focal point of the war as Russian forces try to revive their military campaign in the east.

His visit came as Russian forces launched a series of strikes on Ukrainian cities. At least eight people were killed near Kyiv and in Zaporizhzhia.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down 16 drones, but another five got through. Seven people died in an attack on student dormitories near the capital in Rzhyschiv.

Then a rocket slammed into a block of flats in the south-eastern city of Zaporizhzhia, leaving one dead and 25 wounded. Local leaders said the number of victims could rise.

While President Zelensky condemned Russia’s “bestial” attacks on civilians, he also visited the eastern front line, where Ukrainian forces have held Russia at bay for more than seven months. He last visited the area in December.

Footage released by the president’s office showed him in an old industrial warehouse giving medals to battle-weary soldiers.

“I am honored to be here today,” he told servicemen, “in the east of our country, in Donbas, and to award our heroes, to thank you, to shake your hands.”

UK military intelligence said on Wednesday that a Ukrainian counter-attack to the west of Bakhmut was likely to relieve pressure on the main supply route to the city, and that Russia’s attack on the city could be losing the “limited momentum” it had.

“Fighting continues around the town center and the Ukrainian defense remains at risk from envelopment from the north and south,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Russian occupation officials in Crimea said that a drone attack on the port city of Sevastopol had been repelled, days after President Vladimir Putin visited the city.

Explosions were reported by residents, but the Russian-installed governor said three “objects” targeting the Black Sea Fleet had been destroyed and Russian warships were not damaged.

There was no comment from Ukraine’s military, which said earlier this week it had destroyed missiles destined for the fleet at a rail hub in Dzhankoi in northern Crimea.

Ukraine’s cities were hit by drones in the early hours of Wednesday and later by rockets.

Rescue services searched for survivors after the upper floors of two student dormitories were hit in the city of Rzhyshchiv in Kyiv region. At least seven people were killed, including an ambulance driver, police said. Among the nine wounded was an 11-year-old boy.

Hours later, two missiles crashed into nine-story blocks of flats in Zaporizhzhia, setting two buildings on fire. Officials said one person died in hospital and another 25 people were wounded.

A number of flats were destroyed by the blasts and an air force spokesman indicated they might have been hit by Tornado-S rockets, which have a maximum range of 120km (75 miles).

In a tweet, Zelensky said residential areas in Zaporizhzhia were being targeted and it could not become “just another day” in Ukraine or the rest of the world.

The Russian attacks came a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping completed a two-day visit to Moscow, promoting a 12-point peace plan.

The Ukrainian president noted that every time “someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow”, another order was given to launch attacks.

President Putin said earlier that many of the Chinese proposals “can be taken as the basis for [the] settling of the conflict in Ukraine, whenever the West and Kyiv are ready for it”.

The plan makes no specific proposals and does not call explicitly for Russian forces to leave Ukraine’s sovereign territory. — BBC


March 22, 2023
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