President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that he visited military positions near the frontline town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since Russia’s invasion.
At least one person was killed meanwhile and more than two dozen injured in a Russian strike on a block of flats in Zaporizhzhia, a city near the frontline, its mayor said.
“Donetsk region. The frontline positions of the Ukrainian military in the Bakhmut area,” Zelensky wrote on social media in English.
“I am honoured to be here today to award our heroes. To shake hands and thank them for protecting the sovereignty of our country.”
Video released by Zelensky’s office showed him meeting servicemen in a warehouse and handing out decorations.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have invested heavily in the battle for Bakhmut, even though analysts say the city carries little strategic value.
Kyiv says the battle for the industrial town, which had a pre-war population of around 80,000 people, is key to holding back Russian forces along the entire eastern front.
Zelensky said in a separate post that he had visited Ukrainian troops being treated for injuries, and video showed him touring a hospital with doctors and greeting recovering soldiers.
The Ukrainian leader had visited servicemen inside Bakhmut late last year just ahead of a historic trip to the United States, his first trip abroad since the start of Russia’s invasion last February.
But Russian forces have posted steady gains towards capturing Bakhmut in the months since.
An aide to the Russian appointed head of the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces were close to cutting off Ukraine road links to the city.
“We can say that the city is practically blocked,” the aide, Yan Gagin, said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which claims to be spearheading Moscow’s offensive for the town, said this week that his forces control some 70 percent of Bakhmut.
Zelensky also distributed images of the strike on Zaporizhzhia, showing a projectile smashing into the residential building and a large plume of black smoke rising over the building.
“Unfortunately, one injured person who was in serious condition, died,” mayor Anatoliy Kurtiev said on social media, adding that 25 other people had been hospitalised.
Zelensky described the attack as “bestial savagery” and said Russia was seeking “to destroy our cities, our state, our people”.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Britain against supplying Ukraine with armour-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium.
“This is a step towards a further escalation, and a serious one at that,” Lavrov said.
Britain’s junior defence minister Annabel Goldie indicated this week that London would be providing the munitions alongside a squadron of Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.