Zelensky visits front as Kyiv says six killed in Russian attacks
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday visited frontline command posts in eastern and southern Ukraine, as local officials reported six killed in a spate of Russian air, rocket and artillery attacks.
Despite the frontlines having barely shifted in over a year, fighting has remained intense, with both sides hurrying to gain ground as temperatures plunge below freezing.
Zelensky said he held talks with military commanders in the northeastern Kharkiv region and the southern Zaporizhzhia region on Thursday.
Meeting with soldiers, he praised Ukrainian troops deployed around Kupiansk, a town that Russian forces have had in their sights since it was recaptured by Ukraine last September.
“Fighters on the Kupiansk front are protecting the peaceful life of Ukrainians and the people of the Kharkiv region,” Zelensky said in a video posted on social media.
“I wish you victory, be strong and don’t lose the initiative,” he said.
Hours after he announced his visit, Moscow claimed its forces had repelled two Ukrainian assaults near Kupiansk with the help of fighter jets and artillery.
Ukrainian officials meanwhile said Russian forces had continued trying to wrest control of Avdiivka, a frontline town in the neighbouring Donetsk region.
In his evening address on Thursday, Zelensky said it was “necessary to boost and accelerate the construction” of fortifications at Avdiivka, as well as near other frontline towns.
Russia launched a renewed bid to capture the war-battered town last month and analysts suggest Moscow’s forces have made incremental gains, though at an enormous human cost.
“The enemy continues active ground infantry attacks in the operational,” Oleksandr Tarnavsky, who is responsible for fighting in the east, said Thursday.
He added that Ukrainian forces had fended off more than 20 Russian attacks on several towns and villages around Avdiivka and that Ukraine had taken dozens of Russian forces captive in the last month.
AFP was not able to independently verify the claims.
Across the east and south of Ukraine, six people were killed in a spate of Russian attacks, with three more still missing, local officials said Thursday.
In the Kherson region, authorities said Russian shelling had killed three people in the village of Sadove.
Two people were killed and three more, including a child, were trapped under rubble in the eastern Donetsk region after simultaneous Russian strikes on three towns, Ukraine’s emergency services said.
The industrial region has seen some of the fiercest fighting of Russia’s nearly two-year invasion. The Kremlin claimed to have annexed it last year, along with three other regions.
Russian forces fired six S-300 rockets on Pokrovsk, Novogrodivka and Myrnograd, officials in Kyiv said.
Emergency workers on Wednesday recovered the bodies of two men from a residential building in Novogrodivka, Ukraine’s emergency services agency said.
As night fell, rescuers were still searching for three people, including a child, suspected to be trapped under the debris, it added.
An evening attack on the town of Toretsk in the eastern Donetsk region also killed one and injured two, the local prosecutor’s office said — taking the number Kyiv said were killed in Russian attacks throughout the day to six.
“The occupiers attacked the city of Toretsk for the second time in a day. Preliminarily, the enemy dropped two KAB-250 aerial bombs on the city. They aimed at the private sector, a 49-year-old local resident died,” it said in a statement.
In a different attack on Pokrovsk, a six-month-old baby was wounded, alongside two boys aged 13 and 16, Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said.
“One of the shells exploded in the yard of a house where a family with two children lived. As a result of the shelling, the roof and walls of the house were destroyed, and the family was buried under the rubble,” Klymenko added.
Russian forces and their proxies have controlled large swathes of the Donetsk region since 2014, when large-scale pro-democracy protests in Ukraine led to a separatist conflict in the east.
Separately, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets on Thursday said that Moscow had stopped swapping prisoners of war with Kyiv.
The two warring sides have carried out many rounds of prisoner exchanges during Moscow’s 21-month long invasion, but in the latter half of this year the process stalled.
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