Published7 minutes ago
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited troops in the eastern Donetsk region, which Russia claims as its own after a sham referendum.
The area – particularly around the town of Bakhmut – is now the main focus of fighting after Ukraine’s forces retook Kherson in the south last month.
President Zelensky called it the “most difficult area that protects not only the east, but our entire state”.
Russia and its proxies have controlled parts of Donetsk since 2014.
But speaking on the Day of the Armed Forces, Mr Zelensky said he believed Ukraine would take back all the land occupied by Russia, including Crimea.
There has been intense fighting for many weeks around the city of Bakhmut as Russia attempts to take more territory after a string of battlefield defeats in other parts of Ukraine.
British intelligence believes that Russia’s efforts there are being led by the private military contractor, Wagner Group.
It’s thought both sides have suffered heavy losses in the area. The battle for Bakhmut has been compared to fighting during World War One because of the trenches, charred trees and mud that have become a feature of the landscape.
President Zelensky praised troops for their courage and endurance in a video filmed in the city of Sloviansk, about 45km (28 miles) north-west of Bakhmut. Sloviansk was one of the first cities occupied by pro-Russian forces in 2014, but was later recaptured by Ukraine.
The mayor of the nearby city of Donetsk, which is under Russian control, said Ukrainian shelling had killed six people there on Tuesday.
The president’s visit came a day after explosions hit two airfields deep inside Russia, which Moscow blamed on Ukrainian drones. Photographs circulating online appeared to show a badly damaged Russian aircraft at one of the facilities.
Another explosion on Tuesday close to an airfield in the Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, was also blamed on Kyiv.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later met with top officials to discuss “domestic security”, but no other details were given.