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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontlines of the battle against Russia in the eastern Kharkiv region on Sunday, his first appearance outside Kyiv since the war began, coming as his forces reportedly made a counteroffensive in the south.
In a statement, Zelenksy’s office said that the president met with the members of the military and presented troops with awards and gifts.
“I want to thank each of you for your service. You risk your life for all of us and our state. Thank you for defending Ukraine’s independence. Take care of yourself!” Zelensky told the serviceman.
Zelensky also inspected destroyed residential buildings in Khakiv city, according to a separate statement.
According to the president’s office, Russian forces have occupied 31 percent of the Kharkiv region, but it said Ukrainian forces were able to take five percent of the region back.
Ukraine announced a counterattack against Russia in the southern Kherson region over the weekend, after waiting for Western munitions to arrive and bolster forces, the New York Times reported.
This frontline visit was the first time Zelensky visited a city or region outside of the capital of Kyiv since Russia invaded in late February, according to the Times.
Kharkiv has been a key target for Russian forces, with the city’s governor confirming on Thursday that nine civilians were killed and 19 others were wounded due to recent Russian shelling.
In a previous address, Zelensky also said that conditions in the Donbas region of the country have been “indescribably difficult” since the invasion began.
“But our defense holds on,” Zelensky said in his address “It’s indescribably difficult there. And I am grateful to all those who withstand this onslaught of the occupiers.”