Marking the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops in the eastern Donetsk region, which Russia claims as its own after a sham referendum, and presented the soldiers with state awards.
“I am honored to be with you here in Donbas today. Allow me to congratulate you on your holiday and the great holiday of our entire state – the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I wish you strength to heroically defend our state, as you are doing now,” Zelensky was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the President’s Office on Tuesday.
“I want to thank your parents for raising you like this, your wives and husbands, your children, all those who support you every day,” he said and also “those warriors who, unfortunately, remained on the battlefield, but did not leave Ukraine”.
According to the President, the “most difficult direction is in the east of Ukraine today, where our entire state is being protected”.
“I believe that we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk, Luhansk, and I am sure that we will also meet in Crimea,” he added.
The difficult area, particularly around the town of Bakhmut, is now the main focus of fierce fighting after Ukraine’s forces retook Kherson in the south last month.
Russia and its proxies have controlled parts of Donetsk since 2014.
After travelling to Donetsk, Zelensky’s next stop was Kharkiv where he visited injured servicemen in a hospital.
In the evening, the President addressed members of the armed forces at the Mariinsky Palace in Kiev.
“I am thankful to the warriors of our army and all formations of the Defence Forces of Ukraine. I am thankful to the parents of our warriors who raised the winners. I am thankful to all the doctors and nurses who save the wounded. I am thankful to everyone who strengthens the defence and provides Ukrainian warriors with everything they need,” he said in his address.
The President pointed out that the Armed Force have been defending Ukraine from Russian aggression for eight years and 286 days, and that thousands of Ukrainians have given their lives for victory and freedom.
All those gathered there observed a minute of silence in memory of those killed on the battlefield.
Tuesday’s development comes a day after massive Russian missile strikes that again targeted critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
These strikes were the eighth since October 10.
The country is now seeing snow and sub-zero temperatures in many regions, and millions are without electricity and running water, raising fears people may die of hypothermia.