Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops near the front lines in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday and expressed gratitude to all those involved in the military effort to mark the country’s Armed Forces Day.
Addressing servicemen later at the presidential palace in Kyiv, Zelensky said he had spent the day with troops in the Donbass, theater of the heaviest fighting, and in Kharkiv Oblast, where Ukrainians have retaken parts of occupied territory from Russian forces that invaded more than nine months before.
“Thousands of Ukrainians have given their lives so that the day could come when not a single occupation soldier will remain in our land and when all our people will be free,” Zelensky, dressed in his trademark khaki green, told the crowd everything.
He thanked medical staff and parents of servicemen and welcomed home 60 prisoners of war returned in an exchange with Russia, which calls its activity in Ukraine a “special military operation” to root out nationalists it considers dangerous.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of waging an unprovoked war to seize territory from its pro-Western neighbor.
During his visit near the front, one of several he has made in recent months, Zelensky awarded a number of servicemen.
“Thank you for this endurance and strength. You are an outpost of our independence,” he wrote in a post on Telegram.
“I believe that next time we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said, referring to the regional capitals in eastern Ukraine seized by Moscow-backed proxies in 2014. “I’m sure in Crimea as well,” he said , mentioning the peninsula was seized by pro-Moscow forces in 2014.
Zelensky did not specify where exactly he met the troops.
He also recorded a separate video in which he spoke in front of a huge sign with letters that read Slavyansk, a city held by Ukrainian forces near the besieged town of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian officials say fighting is raging around Bakhmut as Russian troops seek to capture it to gain a better foothold in the Donbass after battlefield setbacks elsewhere.