Zelensky visits war-torn Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made an unannounced visit Saturday morning to the war-torn southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, organized by Kyiv as a sign of fierce resistance.

Zelensky’s visit, his first to the city, came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin sought support for the rally in a defiant speech and blamed the West for the ongoing fallout of the war as both leaders tried to convince their public and the world. Let’s fight for that they have the upper hand in the fight.

In the early weeks of the war, Zelensky had been a fixture in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, often addressing the nation from easily identifiable locations as he sought to stabilize his shellshocked civilian.

But increasingly, he has moved closer to the front lines, a demonstration that his army has a sufficiently strong hold on these volatile areas to advance safely. The yatras have become a tool to boost morale among soldiers and the public and to distract from the horrific losses as fierce fighting continues.

Zelensky made his first trip outside the Kyiv region in late May, when he visited Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which had just repulsed a planned Russian offensive.

While in the city, which he described as having “suffered a terrible blow”, he met with soldiers, presented awards to fighters and used a chance to “be a new face” to areas ravaged by Russian attacks. described when they were rebuilt.

Mykolaiv, a strategically important river port between Mariupol and Odessa, was seen as a major target of Russia when the conflict began in February. It is now just a few miles away from a Ukrainian counteroffensive aimed at retaking the nearby city of Kherson, which was lost early in the battle.

At the time, with the Russian army on the outskirts of the city, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before Mykolaiv would be forced to surrender as well. But despite a long siege by the Russian army, which left the city battered and broken, resistance hardened.

Despite bodies piled up in the city’s morgue, residents were defying. Weeks after the siege began, Ukrainian forces managed to regain complete control of the city, pushing Russian forces back to the southeast.

Footage from Saturday’s visit posted on the official Telegram channel of Zelensky’s office showed him looking at the shell of a nine-story government building that was hit by a missile in late March, killing dozens of people. were killed.

In a tour of the city hospital, Zelensky thanked the staff for their work and for treating patients as they were with their families.

“Because you are heroic people, you saved both military and civilian lives,” Zelensky said in a statement released by his office after the visit. “I want to wish you and your family and friends good health!”

But according to a Friday assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, despite Zelensky’s attempt to project the idea that all was well, Russian forces continued to fire at Ukrainian positions along the length of the border between the Mykolaiv region and neighboring Kherson. has continued. The institute said the relentless artillery attack was likely to deter Ukrainian counterattacks in the area.

And the human toll of war cannot be taken away, with funerals taking place daily for the soldiers who died on the Eastern Front in every corner of the country. Even in the relative safety of the western city of Lviv, a cemetery for those killed in battle is filled to over capacity, with fresh graves dug daily outside its original perimeter.

It has also become clear that foreign fighters and others who have joined the war effort in Ukraine are facing a similar crisis.

On Saturday, the family of 49-year-old Grady Kurpaci, a former US Marine Corps officer, confirmed that he was the third American to go missing in the country.

“Grady went there not to fight but to help Ukrainian civilians; he unfortunately fell into it,” said George Heath, a friend who was acting as a spokesman for Kurpaci’s family.

After tracking his phone in an area occupied by Russian forces, he believes he is being held prisoner.

Earlier last week, 39-year-old Alex Drucke, a former US Army staff sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, and Andy Tai Ngok Huan, 27, also said that both had gone missing in Ukraine.

On Saturday, a US State Department spokesman said officials had seen photos and videos of “these two US citizens allegedly captured by Russian military forces in Ukraine”. The department was in contact with the men’s families, Ukrainian officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the spokesman said, declining further comment.

On Friday, short videos were posted to YouTube showing the two men saying in Russian, “I am against war.” It was unclear when or by whom the videos were recorded, but it appears the men were being trained on what to say.

Huynh’s fiancée, Joyce Black, said on Friday that after watching a video, she “clearly felt very emotional, but very hopeful and never lost faith.” She added: “I look forward to bringing him home.”

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