Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited troops on the front line in Ukraine’s war-torn northeastern Kharkiv region, his first official appearance outside the capital Kyiv and its nearby regions since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24.
Zelenskyy’s office posted a video on Telegram of him wearing a bullet-proof vest and being shown heavily destroyed buildings in Kharkiv and its surroundings on Sunday.
“You risk your lives for us all and for our country,” the president’s office website cited Zelenskyy as telling Ukrainian soldiers, adding that the president also handed out commendations and gifts to the troops.
In a video of the visit, Ukrainian soldiers are seen showing Zelenskyy destroyed trucks on the side of a road going through a field.
“In this war, the occupiers are trying to squeeze out at least some result,” Zelenskyy said in a later post.
“But they should have understood long ago that we will defend our land to the last man. They have no chance. We will fight and we will definitely win.”
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi in Kyiv said that the president travelled to an area that is still under Russian attack to meet and thank Ukrainian troops.
His visit also sends a strong message that Ukraine remains on a “strong footing” in the war against Moscow.
“Certainly a calculated risk, one to illustrate that the country is on a strong footing, no doubt to raise morale or keep morale high as Ukraine continues to fight the Russians on multiple fronts along the eastern side of the country as well as the south,” Basravi said.
Zelenskyy also met local officials – the governor of Kharkiv region and the mayor of the city – during this visit and discussed reconstruction programs for the region.
“This is a chance for such districts to have a new face,” Zelenskyy said.
Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, wrote on the Telegram app that the president had visited Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, and that 31 percent of the Kharkiv region’s territory was currently occupied by Russia, and a further 5 percent had been taken back by Ukraine forces from occupying Russians.