Ukraine’s president visited troops in the Kharkiv region, his first publicly known trip outside the Kyiv area since before Russia’s invasion, in a show of confidence for the nation’s defenders.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited front-line positions of Ukraine’s military, handed out state awards and “valuable gifts” to servicemen and servicewomen, and had briefings on the operational situation, according to his website.
The exact time of the visit wasn’t specified. A series of air raid sirens went off in the northeastern city within hours of Zelenskyy’s visit being announced.
“I want to thank each of you for your service. You risk your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine’s independence. Take care of yourself!” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy most recently visited Ukrainian defensive positions in the eastern Donbas region on Feb. 17, a week before Russia’s invasion. In early March he made an unannounced visit to the edges of Kyiv while fighting was still going on nearby. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is about 480 kilometers (300 miles) east of Kyiv, and about 30 km from the Russian border.
Most of Zelenskyy’s recent travel has been to Bucha on the outskirts of the capital, where Russian troops have been accused of atrocities against the civilian population. Zelenskyy went there to survey the damage and to talk to survivors and journalists, often with foreign leaders.
During his visit, Oleg Synegubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Association, told Zelenskyy that 31% of the region’s territory remains temporarily occupied, and that 5% had been liberated from Russia.
Images from the surprise trip to Kharkiv showed Zelenskyy, in a bulletproof vest, meeting with troops, observing bombed-out Russian military vehicles, and inspected some of the city’s thousands of heavily damaged apartment blocks.
More than 30% of residential buildings in Kharkiv have been damaged by Russian attacks, Zelenskyy was told. During a meeting with officials, Zelenskyy suggested to use the eventual post-war reconstruction to get rid of old Soviet-type blocks of flats across the country, even outside areas of fighting, to be replaced by more modern living spaces — with bomb shelters.
In his nightly video address on Thursday, Zelenskyy said Kharkiv had been struck again by Russian missiles, ending a period of relative calm after Moscow’s forces retreated The city’s subway had started running again two days earlier.
At least nine people, including a father and his five-month-old baby, were killed and 19 wounded in the shelling, he said.
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