On the 116th day of war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, back from the southern front, assured Sunday that his troops are keeping their spirits up and have no doubts of victory against the Russians, in a conflict which, according to NATO, could last years. The point of the situation.
In a rare visit outside kyiv, where he barricaded himself at the start of the conflict when the capital was threatened by the Russian army, Zelensky traveled to the Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, visiting troops stationed nearby and in the neighboring region of Odessa.
“We won’t give the South to anyone, we will take everything back, and the sea will be Ukrainian, it will be safe,” he said in a video posted on Telegram as he returned to Kyev.
His remarks were followed by a bleaker assessment of the situation by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The war could last “for years”, he warned in an interview published Sunday by the German daily Bild, urging Western countries to register their support for kyiv in the long term.
“We must not falter in supporting Ukraine, even though the costs are high, not only in terms of military support but also due to rising energy and food prices,” he said. says Jens Stoltenberg.
Russian forces have been concentrating their firepower on eastern and southern Ukraine in recent weeks since their failed attempt to take the capital kyiv after a February 24 lightning invasion.
“The losses are significant. Many houses have been destroyed, civilian logistics have been disrupted, there are many social problems,” Zelensky said.
Want to live
“I asked that assistance be put in place for people who have lost loved ones more generally. We will definitely rebuild everything that was destroyed. Russia does not have as many missiles as our people want to live,” he added.
Mr Zelensky thanked the soldiers, who are containing the surge of Russian troops, supported in the east from annexed Crimea, for their “heroic service”.
“It is important that you are alive. As long as you are alive, there is a strong Ukrainian wall protecting our country,” he told them.
A video, released by the presidency, showed him in Mykolaiv with the local governor, Vitaliy Kim, in front of the gaping facade of the headquarters of the regional administration, hit by a Russian strike in March which left 37 dead.
This port and industrial city of almost half a million inhabitants before the war is still under Ukrainian control, but it is close to the Kherson region, almost entirely occupied by the Russians. A Russian strike killed two people and injured 20 on Friday.
It remains a target of Moscow because it is on the road to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, 130 km to the south-west near Moldova, also still under Ukrainian control and at the center of discussions on the blocked export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain.
Russia, which controls this area of the Black Sea despite the firing of Ukrainian missiles against its ships, explains that the waters are mined.
In Mykolaiv, Ukrainian soldiers are struggling to maintain their pre-war routines, with one saying he won’t give up his vegan diet while on the front line.
Oleksandr Zhuhan said he received a package from a network of volunteers to maintain his diet. “There was pâté and vegan sausages, hummus, soy milk (…) and all that for free,” rejoiced the 37-year-old theater teacher.
In kyiv, thousands of people gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to a young man, Roman Ratushny, 24, a figure of the pro-European Maidan movement in Ukraine, killed fighting the Russians in the east of the country.
In front of his coffin draped in a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag at the foot of a monument overlooking the sprawling Independence Square in the capital, people of all ages saluted his memory.
“I think it’s important to be here because he’s a hero of Ukraine and we have to remember him,” Dmytro Ostrovsky, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP.
This loss puts a human face on the grief shared by Ukrainians, as the bloodshed continues in the country.
Fierce fighting is raging in particular near Severodonetsk, in the Donbass region (east), partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and which Russia, after failing to take kyiv in the first weeks of its offensive, has set itself aim to take full control.
“An expression says: you have to prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself”, said Saturday in an interview with AFP Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, which is home to the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in particular. .
“Of course we have to prepare,” added the man who repeatedly warned that the Russians would end up surrounding Lyssytchansk by cutting off its main supply routes.
“The situation is difficult, in the city (of Lysychansk) and in the whole region”, he stressed, because the Russians “are bombarding our positions around the clock”.
The inhabitants of Lysytchansk were preparing to be evacuated: “We are giving up everything and leaving. No one can survive such a strike,” said a resident, Alla Bor, a history teacher.
Earlier in the day, Serguiï Gaïdaï had announced “more destruction” still at the besieged Azot chemical factory in Severodonetsk, where more than 500 civilians, including 38 children, are hiding.
5 dead in Donetsk
Pro-Russian authorities in Donetsk, capital of the self-proclaimed “republic” of the same name in the part of Donbass that has escaped kyiv’s control since 2014, for their part claimed that Ukrainian bombardments on the city had left five dead and 12 injured among the civilian population.
Finally, it is in the north, from Belarus where the Russian forces had started their attack, that the Ukrainians again fear an offensive.
In an interview published this week by the National Defense Magazine, an American specialized publication, General Volodymyr Karpenko, chief of logistics of the Ukrainian army, admitted that Ukraine had lost “about 50%” of its armaments. .
Only after repelling Russian forces will Ukraine be ready to engage in new negotiations with Moscow, David Arakhamia, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, told the Ukrainian branch of the American radio Voice of America. .
“A minimal agreement (for negotiations, editor’s note) would be if we pushed them back or if they voluntarily returned to the positions they occupied before February 24,” he said.