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Ukraine’s president travels close to front-line troops as Russia pushes them back

“What you all deserve is victory — that is the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy told his troops during a visit Sunday.
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/ Source: Reuters

KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had visited two cities very close to one of the most active front lines between his country’s troops and Russian forces, where a regional official said the situation had worsened for the Ukrainian side.

Ukrainian forces had suffered a slight reversal of fortunes after managing to retake half of the city of Sievierodonetsk, the main battlefield in the east where Russia has concentrated its forces, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province where the city is located, told national television.

Haidai did not go into details but said the Ukrainian troops were still holding their positions in the city’s industrial zone.

“The fiercest fighting is in Sievierodonetsk. Fast-moving fighting is happening right now,” he said.

Zelenskyy said he had travelled to Lysychansk, south of Sievierodonetsk, and Soledar — rare outings for him outside Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 and possibly the closest to the front line yet. 

“What you all deserve is victory — that is the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Zelenskyy, wearing his trademark khaki T-shirt, told Ukrainian troops in a video released on Sunday night. 

A woman walks in front of damaged apartment building after a missile strike in the city of Soledar in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on Saturday. Aris Messinis / AFP via Getty Images

Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk are in the Luhansk region and Soledar is in the Donetsk region. Together they make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which Russia says it is on a mission to "liberate."

Moscow has focused most of its firepower on the Donbas after Ukraine pushed its troops back from Kyiv and Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv.

Russia struck Kyiv with missiles for the first time in more than a month on Sunday, with one person reported hospitalized. Dark smoke could be seen from many miles away after the attack on two outlying districts.

Ukraine said the strike hit a rail car repair works, while Moscow said it had destroyed tanks sent by Eastern European countries to Ukraine.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the Ukrainian railway, confirmed four missiles had smashed into the Darnytsia rail car repair facility in eastern Kyiv, but said there was no military hardware at the site.

The strike was a reminder of war in Kyiv where normal life has largely returned since Russian forces were driven from its outskirts in March.

Ukraine said Russia had carried out the Kyiv strike using long-range air-launched missiles fired from heavy bombers as far away as the Caspian Sea.

Russia says the strikes are part of a campaign to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and block Western arms shipments. President Vladimir Putin warned the United States on Sunday that Russia would strike new targets if the West supplied longer-range missiles to Ukraine for use in high-precision mobile rocket systems. 

Britain said on Monday it would supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can strike targets up to 50 miles away, a move that was coordinated with the United States in response to Russia’s invasion. 

Heavy fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk and Russian forces are pushing towards Sloviansk, which lies about 5 miles to the west, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Monday.

Both sides say they have inflicted huge casualties in Sievierodonetsk.

In Lysychansk, Russian forces fired on a bakery and several administrative and residential buildings, Haidai said on Monday, adding one civilian had been wounded.

Evacuations resumed from the Ukrainian-held part of Luhansk province on Sunday, and 98 people had escaped, Haidai said.

The governor of Russia’s western Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said the border village of Tyotkino had come under fire from Ukraine on Monday morning that targeted a bridge and some businesses. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Ukraine’s military reported that its forces repelled seven attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Sunday, destroying four tanks and shooting down a combat helicopter.

It was not immediately possible to verify the battlefield reports.

A Russian state media journalist on Sunday said Russian Major General Roman Kutuzov had been killed in eastern Ukraine, adding to the string of high-ranking military casualties sustained by Moscow.