Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has visited Kharkiv to meet with troops defending that crucial northeastern city, marking the first time he has ventured out of the capital, Kyiv, since Russian forces began their full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s presidential office reported on May 29 that Zelenskiy met with soldiers on frontline positions and held a session with local officials, including Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, regional administrator Oleh Synyehubov, and members of the military command.
“You risk your lives for us all and for our country,” Zelenskiy’s office quoted the president as telling troops fighting there.
His visit comes as the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said Russian shelling had caused fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russia has kept up a bombardment of Kharkiv after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago following Russia’s February 24 invasion.
The president’s office said Synyehubov told Zelenskiy that Ukrainian forces had made some progress in their counterattack against Russia’s latest offensive.
“But we are not yet able to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements, as shelling continues, or to conduct full-fledged demining and begin rebuilding critical infrastructure,” Synyehubov was quoted as saying.
He added that Russian forces had damaged 2,229 high-rise buildings, of which 225 were completely ruined, in the region. He said the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv had suffered the most damage, with more than 30 percent of the housing stock destroyed.
The figures could not immediately verified.
Earlier, in his late-night video address on May 28, Zelenskiy expressed hope that allies will provide needed weapons as Ukrainian forces try to halt advancing invading Russian forces in the east amid reports of fierce fighting in the eastern city of Syevyerodonetsk.
Zelenskiy said that he expected good news on weapons deliveries this week, without giving details.
Zelenskiy said the military situation in the Donbas region was complicated, adding that defenses were holding up in a number of places, including Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.
“It’s indescribably difficult there. And I am grateful to all those who withstood this onslaught,” he said.
Russian invading forces are reported to have made gains in recent days in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas, comprising the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Fighting for control of Syevyerodonetsk continues with Russian forces conducting assault operations on May 28, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on May 29.
“With the use of artillery, Russian forces carried out assault operations in the area of the city of Syevyerodonetsk,” the General Staff said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces had dug in at the Myr hotel in northern Syevyerodonetsk.
He said Russian forces were unable to advance into the city center and were taking casualties, but he also said Ukrainian troops were not currently able to “push them out of the hotel.”
Russian artillery was also pounding the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must take to close a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces, and police said there was significant destruction in Lysychansk.
The British Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence report on May 28 that if Russia succeeded in taking over those areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a substantive political achievement, which it could use to justify its invasion to the Russian people.
In his late-night address, Zelenskiy said Ukraine was approaching the point where it would outnumber the Russians both technologically and in terms of its ability to strike.
His comments came after Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.
“The coastal defense of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles — they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page on May 28.
He said Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles in the defense of the country’s coast including the southern port of Odesa.
Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine, said in an online post that “so many Harpoons have been handed over to us that we can sink the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet. Why not?”
Last month, the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, sank after what Ukraine says was an anti-ship missile attack. Moscow says a fire sparked an ammunition blast.
After launching its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia imposed a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine is a major grain exporter, and the blockage of its exports threatens to result in food shortages in a number countries, including in Africa.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a call on May 28.
They urged him to lift a Russian blockade of the Odesa port to allow Ukrainian grain exports, France said. The Kremlin said Putin told them Moscow was willing to discuss ways to make it possible for Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea ports.