Dec 20, 2022 - World

Zelensky visits besieged Ukrainian city on frontline amid heavy fighting

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meeting with troops in the city of Bakhmut on Dec. 20.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meeting with troops in the city of Bakhmut on Dec. 20. Photo: Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday unexpectedly visited soldiers defending the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut that's been besieged by Russian forces, including mercenaries from the Wagner private military company, for months.

Why it matters: Fighting around the industrial Donbas city has been raging for several months, but it has recently been the site of some of the fiercest battles so far in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Since shelling began in May 2022, Bakhmut — which had a had a pre-invasion population of between 70,000 and 80,000 — has been reduced to "ruins," Zelensky said in early December.

What they're saying: Zelensky's office said he traveled to the city to visit the personnel of one of the defending mechanized brigades, though it was unknown exactly where in Bakhmut he had visited.

  • "Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian soldiers for the courage, resilience and strength they demonstrate by repelling enemy attacks," Sergii Nykyforov, a spokesperson for the president, said on social media.
  • Nykyforov said Zelensky also gave state awards to members of the mechanized and motor infantry, mountain assault, tank, artillery and airmobile units.

The big picture: During the months-long battle for the city, Ukrainian and Russian forces have suffered heavy causalities, but the exact numbers are currently unknown.

  • Russia gaining control over the city would deprive Ukraine of a crucial rail line and road junction. It would also give Russian forces a foothold from which they could advance toward larger Ukrainian cities to the west.
  • However, military analysts recently told Reuters that Russia will at best be able to achieve a pyrrhic victory — in which considerable losses outweigh the gain — over the city given how many resources it's devoted to the battle.
  • Ukraine's defense of the city has also bought it time to fortify defensive lines to the west of Bakhmut, meaning Russia will struggle to extend its breakthrough if it does fully capture the city, the analysts said.

Go deeper: Zelensky says FIFA blocked peace message before World Cup final

Go deeper