(Kyiv) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid tribute on Sunday to the “bravery” of the soldiers who are fighting the Russian army fiercely in the east of the country, at a time when they could be forced to abandon the city of Bakhmout, which has become the epicenter of an all-out war, and threatened with encirclement.
“I would like to pay special tribute to the bravery, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in the Donbass”, this region in the east of the country, Mr. Zelensky said in his daily message.
He stressed how this battle, which for months has inflicted very heavy losses on both sides, in artillery duels and muddy trenches, was “painful and difficult”.
In its daily report, the Ukrainian general staff affirmed that “more than 130 enemy attacks” had been repelled during the last 24 hours, in several sectors of the front, in particular in Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmout and Avdiïvka.
“The enemy continues its attempts to encircle the city of Bakhmout,” he continued, without further details.
The pro-Russian separatist army of Donetsk, auxiliaries to the Russian forces, published a video purporting to show fighters from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner in the northern suburb of Bakhmout, claiming that the small railway station of Stoupky, north of the city, had been conquered.
The paramilitary group assured on Friday that it had “virtually surrounded” the city.
Villages north and west of Bakhmout were attacked, Serhii Tcherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, confirmed on CNN on Saturday.
He said that while the situation in Bakhmout was “difficult”, it remained “under control”.
“The Russians might try to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmout, but the Ukrainian command has given the signal that it prefers to withdraw rather than risk an encirclement,” the Institute for the Study of War said on Saturday ( ISW), a group of American experts.
The battle for Bakhmout, an industrial city whose strategic importance is disputed, has been going on since the summer. The city has become a symbol, because it has been at the heart of the fighting between Russians and Ukrainians for months.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Minister Sergei Shoigu visited a forward command post in Ukraine on Saturday, in the “Donetsk-South” area, without specifying the exact place or date of this visit.
This area of operations faces the sector of the town of Vougledar, where the Russian army has carried out offensives in recent weeks, without much success.
According to ISW, this visit was “obviously aimed at estimating the extent of the losses around Vougledar and the possibility of continuing an offensive in this direction”.
According to images released by the Russian army on Saturday, Sergei Shoigu also attended a meeting with senior Russian officers in charge of the offensive in Ukraine, including Chief of Staff Valery Guerassimov.
Deadly shootings have also been reported in the past 24 hours against residential areas, killing at least five people, according to Ukrainian authorities.
The prosecutor’s office in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, has announced that it is opening a war crime investigation after the death of a couple of civilians in a Russian strike that hit their car on Sunday in the village of Boudarky.
Finally the balance sheet of the strike against a residential building in Zaporijjia (south), on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, increased to 13 dead including a child.
On the diplomatic front, Volodymyr Zelensky received Saturday in Lviv, in western Ukraine, the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola. Both said they hoped for the opening of negotiations this year for Ukraine to join the European Union.
Mr. Zelensky also returned on Saturday to the situation at the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant, a year after its capture by Russian forces.
He denounced “the hostage taking” of the plant, the largest in Europe, and called on the West to sanction the Russian nuclear industry.
In an interview with AFP, the mayor in exile of the town of Energodar, where the plant is located, said that the latter was now shut down and had been de facto transformed into a “military base” where harbor Russian forces.
At the forefront of Western support for Kyiv, US President Joe Biden for his part announced on Friday new military aid to Ukraine of $400 million.
Washington has included ammunition in this aid, notably for the Himars rocket system, which Ukrainian forces have used with devastating effect on Russian troops and logistics lines.