Ukrainian president extends tour of war’s front-line areas

President Volodymyr Zelensky met Tuesday with officials and local people in two cities in the region that borders Russia

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives at the train station in Trostianets in the Sumy region of Ukraine, March 28, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)

Ukraine’s president visited the Sumy region in northern Ukraine on Tuesday, continuing his tour over recent days of areas of the country that have felt the brunt of Russia’s full-scale invasion and as the stage increasingly looks set for a Ukrainian counteroffensive. President Volodymyr Zelensky met with officials and local people in two cities in the region and with border guards at an undisclosed location near the border with Russia.

The Sumy region was partially occupied by Russian forces after the war started more than a year ago. The Russians withdrew from the region by early April.

The Associated Press was granted exclusive access as Zelensky visited the cities of Okhtyrka, which saw fierce battles last year but was never occupied, and Trostianets, which was held by the Russians for a month after the invasion but retaken by Ukrainian forces on March 26, 2022.

The president’s office said Zelensky also went up to the Russian border to meet with border guards and hear how they are protecting checkpoints. Ukrainian authorities say Russia has increased shelling of border areas in the Sumy region in recent weeks.

Zelensky’s trip followed his visits over the past seven days to the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, parts of which were retaken last year from the Kremlin’s forces, to the intensely contested area near Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, and to Zaporizhzhia in the south.

Also Tuesday, at least three civilians were killed and 43 others were wounded by the latest Russian attacks involving drones, gliding bombs and heavy artillery, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

In the eastern Donetsk region, Russian shelling hit 12 towns and villages, killing two people and wounding 34. The Russian shelling also targeted the southern city of Kherson, where five were wounded. In Bilopillia in the Sumy region, a Russian strike damaged a school building and an apartment building.

Addressing a crowd on a square in Okhtyrka, Zelensky promised that the battle-scarred city would be rebuilt.

“We won’t let any wound remain on the body of our state,” he said.

In Trostianets, Zelensky honored soldiers at the local railway station, where Ukrainian authorities say the Russians tortured prisoners. He also met with Ukraine’s minister for reconstruction, Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Many buildings in the city are damaged or destroyed by the war, with crumbling walls and punctured roofs.

Trostianets resident Dmytro Zaiats told the AP that the president’s visit meant a lot to him.

“It’s a symbol of unity and the iron will that brought the country together,” he said.

Expectations of a Ukrainian push against Russian positions are mounting as the weather improves and Western-supplied weapons for Kyiv arrive.

Germany said late Monday it has delivered the 18 Leopard II tanks it had promised to Ukraine. Poland, Canada, Norway and Portugal have also delivered promised Leopard tanks. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter that the first British Challenger 2 battle tanks had arrived, too.

“These fantastic machines will soon begin their combat missions,” Reznikov said.

Russia is stepping up its own production of war materiel. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited factories in the Chelyabinsk and Kirov regions producing artillery rounds and rockets, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, adding that the plants will increase the output of certain items by seven or eight times later this year.

Russia has kept up its long-range bombardment of Ukraine areas, but its nighttime attacks with Iranian-made Shahed exploding drones are causing little damage.

The Ukrainian military downed 14 of the 15 Shahed drones Russia fired late Monday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said.

The Kyiv regional military administration said that wreckage from a downed drone hit an administrative building in the Sviatoshynskyi District in western part of the capital, causing a fire. There were no casualties.

The Dnipropetrovsk regional governor, Serhii Lysak, said the Ukrainian military shot down two drones overnight, but another one hit a privately-owned industrial facility in the city of Dnipro and caused a fire that took hours to extinguish.

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