Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with troops in the eastern city of Bakhmut, the site of some of the most intense fighting since Russia invaded the nation, and praised their "courage, resilience, and power." At the same time, artillery rang out in the background.
Putin, for his part, lauded the "courage and self-denial" of his men in Ukraine, but he did it in an affluent and dazzling hall of the Kremlin in Moscow rather than on the battlefield.
As the stalemated struggle entered its tenth month and winter approached, both leaders attempted to boost morale.
According to his office, Zelenskky met with military men in a darkly lighted structure — probably an abandoned factory — near Bakhmut, which he described as "the hottest place on the entire front line." The city, located approximately 600 kilometers (380 miles) east of Kyiv, has remained under Ukrainian control, thwarting Moscow's objective of taking the remainder of Donetsk province and the entire industrial Donbas region.
The Ukrainian leader informed the troops that he traveled via Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Druzhkivka en route to Bakhmut on an unannounced journey to demonstrate Moscow's failure to capture the city and demoralize the Russian forces attempting to encircle it.
"Bakhmut Castle. Our people. Unconquered by opposing forces. By their bravery, " he wrote on his Telegram channel, " demonstrating that we will persevere and not give up what is ours," saluting the troops for their "courage, resilience, and strength" in repelling hostile attacks.
"Since May, the occupiers have been attempting to break our Bakhmut, but as time passes, Bakhmut is shattering not just the Russian army but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the invaders' depleted force," he explained.
The invasion of Russia, which began on February 24, has lost impetus. The illegitimately acquired provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia remain hotly disputed. Capturing Bakhmut would sever Ukraine's supply lines and allow Russian forces to advance toward major Ukrainian strongholds in the province of Donetsk.
According to reports, Wagner Group mercenaries, an undercover Russian military contractor, are leading the push in Bakhmut. Since 2014, Russia-backed separatists controlled portions of Donetsk and nearby Luhansk before Russia's full-scale invasion. Together, the two provinces comprise the Donbas.
Videos posted on a central Russian social media platform showed Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, standing next to an artillery piece and stating that he was prepared to meet with Zelenskyy in Bakhmut. In a statement accompanying the recordings, Prigozhin's representatives conveyed to Zelenskyy the following message: "If you have not yet left Bakhmut, I am ready to see you. Prigozhin.” It was unclear from the videos where and when they were shot.
Putin gave honors at the Kremlin ceremony to the Moscow-appointed leaders of the four illegally occupied regions of Ukraine.
Putin stated, "Our nation has frequently faced difficulties and preserved its sovereignty." "Russia now faces a similar challenge. Soldiers, officers, and volunteers demonstrate extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice."
In a video message honoring Russia's military and security agencies, he commended the security officers deployed to the four regions, stating that "the residents, Russian citizens, rely on your protection."
Former KGB agent: "It is your responsibility to safeguard their safety, rights, and freedoms." He vowed to strengthen the units' equipment and staff. A Ukrainian counteroffensive has exerted pressure on the regions.
Putin also urged counterintelligence personnel to intensify their efforts to thwart the actions of foreign intelligence organizations and swiftly apprehend traitors, spies, and saboteurs.
In the meantime, British authorities provided a gloomy appraisal of Russia's war progress.
Some 100,000 Russian troops were “dead, injured or have deserted” in the invasion, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. Wallace did not provide a figure for Ukrainian deaths, but a senior U.S. military official recently claimed that roughly 100,000 Ukrainian forces had been killed or wounded.
Losses in the Russian military command and the destruction of equipment have also taken their toll. Wallace told members in the House of Commons, "not a single operational commander in place on February 24 is in charge presently." Significant numbers of Russian generals and senior officers have been lost.
According to Wallace, the destruction of more than 4,500 armored and protected vehicles and more than 140 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft has seriously crippled the Russian military.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive has been successful in recapturing vast tracts of territory. The U.K. Ministry of Defense tweeted after 300 days of conflict that Ukraine has liberated around 54% of the maximum amount of additional part Russia acquired during the invasion. It was not specified what portion of Ukrainian territory Russia held at its peak.
According to the report, Russia now controls around 18% of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory, including Donbas and Crimea.
As fighting continues, Zelenskyy's office reports at least five civilian deaths and eight injuries since Monday, when Russian soldiers attacked nine southeastern regions.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, stated that Russia shelled 19 cities and villages over the past day.
As the combat in the east has reached a stalemate, Moscow has launched missiles and drones on Ukraine's power infrastructure to leave the population in the dark as winter weather approaches.
Reopening two of Kyiv's principal subway stations for the first time since the start of the war was a small but welcome step toward normalcy in the Ukrainian city. Maidan Nezalezhnosti and Khreschatyk, along with the other underground stations in the town, have functioned as air raid shelters.
Denys Kapustin, a 24-year-old passenger, stated, "It's the feeling that, despite everything, we're returning to a familiar routine." This is of vital importance.