Zelensky visits front line again as possible new phase of Ukraine war looms

Soldiers in fatigues and helmets ride atop an armored vehicle
Ukrainian soldiers on the front line in Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on March 22, 2023.

Ukraine’s president on Thursday made his third visit in two days to areas that have borne the brunt of Russia’s war, with a trip to the southern Kherson region that was retaken from the Kremlin’s forces, and as a senior Kyiv commander hinted that a brewing Ukrainian counteroffensive could come “very soon.”

Ukraine took back control of the regional capital, also called Kherson, at the end of last year, pushing out the Russian occupiers who had captured the city in the weeks after the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion more than a year ago. The Dnipro River now marks the front line in the region, which is still partially occupied.

While in Kherson on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky met with local security officials and inspected infrastructure damaged by Russian strikes, his office said.


On Wednesday, Zelensky visited Kharkiv in the northeast, the country’s second-largest city. Kyiv’s troops recaptured Kharkiv from the Russians in September as part of the same months-long counteroffensive that won back Kherson.

Also Wednesday, Zelensky met with troops in the eastern region of Donetsk, stopping by a hospital to see wounded soldiers and giving state awards to the defenders of Bakhmut, a wrecked city that is now a symbol of Ukraine’s dogged resistance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions.

Zelensky’s 48 hours of visits far from Kyiv — and close to the front line — came as improving weather sets the stage for possible new offensives by both sides. The biting winter weather, followed by mud as the ground thawed out, has forestalled any major shifts on the battlefield, and the war largely has been deadlocked in recent months.

Russia has issued a sharp warning that the West risks further escalation after the U.K. said it would supply Ukraine with uranium-based ammunition.

March 23, 2023

Ukraine is now starting to receive modern weapons, including tanks, from its Western allies, who are also training Ukrainian troops to use them.

Russian forces have been digging in where they hold territory in the four provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September: Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. Putin has made it clear he wants to have control there.

Ukraine’s ground forces commander said Thursday that Russian forces were “exhausting themselves” in their grinding push to take Bakhmut, giving Kyiv a window of opportunity for a counterstrike.


In a post on the messaging app Telegram, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said that the Russian assault on Bakhmut was causing Putin’s forces to “lose considerable strength.”

Kherson, the provincial capital occupied by Russia, is back in Ukrainian hands. But its people face privation, along with neighbor-against-neighbor suspicions.

Nov. 18, 2022

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we once did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” Syrskyi added, alluding to the counteroffensive last year that pushed Russia back from the Ukrainian capital and large swaths of the northeast.

Russia has kept up its long-range attacks using artillery, missiles and drones.

The death toll from a Russian drone attack Wednesday on a high school and dormitories south of Kyiv rose to nine, Ukrainian emergency services reported.

Russia on Wednesday also struck a nine-story apartment building in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia where at least one person was killed.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a surprise visit to Ukraine hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow for a summit.

March 21, 2023

In other developments:

— European Union leaders endorsed a plan to send Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition within the next 12 months. The EU said at a summit Thursday that it would also deliver missiles if Kyiv requests them.

— The first four of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets that Slovakia decided to give Ukraine have been handed over to the Ukrainian air force. The Slovakian Defense Ministry said Thursday that the remainder will be handed over to the Ukrainian side in the coming weeks.


— Finland said Thursday that it would deliver additional defense material, including three Leopard 2 armored mine-clearing vehicles, to Ukraine in a military aid package worth 161 million euros ($175 million). Finland has so far delivered six Leopard vehicles to Ukraine, officials say. The new aid, the 14th such package from Helsinki so far, also includes heavy weapons and munitions.

— Bulgaria’s president said Thursday that despite expanding the national defense industry’s capacity, the Balkan country — a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU — won’t export weapons to Ukraine. Bulgaria has been in the grip of a political crisis and is heading in April toward its fifth general election in two years.

— The Ukrainian military’s general staff retracted a claim that units of the Russian army had left Nova Kakhovka, a key city in the occupied part of the Kherson region on the eastern side of the Dnipro. It said the claim was made erroneously “as a result of incorrect use of available data.” The city, which had a prewar population of around 45,000 people, holds strategic value: A dam there is one of only two road crossings on the lower stretches of the Dnipro.