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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the contested southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia on Sunday, giving his troops a morale boost as they push back against a dominant Russian presence in the area.
Zelensky met with military leadership and emergency personnel to discuss strategy and humanitarian efforts for the region, according to a statement on the president’s website.
Russian forces pushing to take control of Ukraine’s east now occupy close to 60 percent of Zaporizhzhia, a city and area in the Luhansk region. Fighting in the area has cut off power to 77 settlements and destroyed 2,701 infrastructure facilities, most of which have not been rebuilt, the president’s office said.
Zelensky toured medical offices, a sanatorium, as well as housing and shelter sites in the region. He also met with service members of the Ukrainian military, reportedly telling them that he has “no doubt that we will liberate all the temporarily occupied cities” Russia holds, according to another statement.
The war in Ukraine passed a grim milestone last week: 100 days of bloodshed and warfare. Tens of thousands of troops are estimated to have died on both sides. Despite sustaining heavy losses, Russia continues to slog through the war and now holds about 20 percent of all territory in Ukraine, Zelensky has said.
While Ukrainian forces, heavily backed by NATO and U.S. weapons, successfully fended off Russian aggressors and pushed them out of the capitol region of Kyiv, they are now fighting a much tougher offensive in the eastern region of the country.
On Sunday, Russia began using separatist forces from the Luhansk region as they fight for control of the contested city Sieverodonetsk, according to British intelligence. If Russia gains complete control of the eastern city, it would give them a key hold over the entire Donbas area, the industrial heartland of Ukraine.
The success over the Donbas region would then give Russian forces access to a strategic land bridge over to the Crimean Peninsula, potentially paving the way for another push to capture the rest of Ukraine or to establish a permanent Russian foothold in the country.
Also on Sunday, Russia fired several missiles toward Kyiv, destroying tanks and armored vehicles supplied by NATO to Ukraine.
The strikes came after the U.S. began shipping long-range missile systems to Ukraine as part of a $700 million package for the embattled country.