KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president on Thursday made his third visit in two days to areas that have felt the brunt of Russia’s war, with a trip to the southern Kherson region that was retaken from the Kremlin’s forces, and as a senior Kyiv commander hinted that a brewing Ukrainian counteroffensive could come “very soon.”
Ukraine took back control of the Kherson region’s capital, also called Kherson, at the end of last year, pushing out the Russian occupiers who had captured the city in the weeks following the start of Moscow full-scale invasion more than a year ago. The Dnieper River now marks the front line in the region, which is still partially occupied.
While in Kherson on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with local security officials and inspected infrastructure damaged by Russian strikes, his office said.
On Wednesday, Zelenskyy visited Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city in northeastern Ukraine. Kyiv's troops recaptured Kharkiv from the Russians last September as part of the same monthslong counteroffensive that won back Kherson.
Also Wednesday, Zelenskyy met with troops in the eastern Donetsk region, stopping by a hospital to see wounded soldiers and giving state awards to the defenders of Bakhmut, a wrecked city that is now a symbol of Ukraine’s dogged resistance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions.
Zelenskyy’s 48 hours of visits far from Kyiv — and close to the front line — came as improving weather sets the stage for possible new offensives by both sides. The biting winter weather, followed by mud as the ground thawed out, have prevented major changes on the battlefield, and the war has largely been deadlocked in recent months.
Ukraine is now starting to receive modern weapons, including tanks, from its Western allies, who are also training Ukrainian troops to use them.
Russian forces have been digging in where they hold territory in the four provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September — Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. Putin has made it clear he wants to have control there.
Ukraine’s ground forces commander said Thursday that Russian forces are “exhausting themselves” in their grinding push to take Bakhmut, giving Kyiv a window of opportunity for a counterstrike.
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Telegram post that the Russian assault on Bakhmut was causing Russian forces to “lose considerable strength.”
“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we once did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliia and Kupiansk,” Syrskyi added, referencing Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year that pushed Russia back from the country’s capital and large swathes of the northeast.
Russia has kept up its long-range attacks using artillery, missiles and drones, meanwhile.
The death toll from a Russian drone attack Wednesday on a high school and dormitories south of Kyiv rose to nine, Ukrainian emergency services reported.
Russia on Wednesday also struck a nine-story apartment building in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia where at least one person was killed.
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