Zelenskiy visits troops near frontline city of Bakhmut
KYIV, March 22 (Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Ukrainian troops on Wednesday near the frontline city of Bakhmut, and handed out medals to soldiers he said were heroically defending their country's sovereignty.
Ukrainian forces have held out for about eight months in Bakhmut, despite taking heavy casualties in one of the bloodiest battles since Russia's full-scale invasion 13 months ago.
Video footage posted on social media showed Zelenskiy, dressed in a dark sweatshirt and military khaki trousers, handing out awards to exhausted-looking soldiers in combat gear in what appeared to be a large warehouse.
"I am honoured to be here today to give awards to our heroes. To shake hands and thank them for protecting the sovereignty of our country," Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app under the video footage.
"Your fate is so difficult, yet so historic. To defend our land and to return everything to Ukraine for our children," he said. "I bow low before all the heroes, your close comrades you have lost in the east, and in general throughout this war."
Zelenskiy has portrayed "Fortress Bakhmut" as a symbol of defiance which is bleeding the Russian military dry.
Reminiscent of World War One, the battle for Bakhmut has been fought from trenches with relentless artillery and rocket strikes across a heavily mined battlefield described as a "meat grinder" by commanders on both sides.
Zelenskiy has visited frontline troops several times during the war. Wednesday's visit followed days after Russian President Vladimir Putin went to the city of Mariupol -- his first to any Russian-occupied part of Ukraine's industrial Donbas region since the war began and the closest he has been to front lines.
A separate video on Wednesday showed Zelenskiy visiting wounded soldiers undergoing treatment. He shook the wounded soldiers' hands, thanked them for their service and presented some of them with medals.
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