Zelensky visits Ukraine's front line: 'Situation extremely difficult'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference with US Vice President Kamala Harris after their meeting on the sidelines of the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). -/Ukrinform/dpa
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference with US Vice President Kamala Harris after their meeting on the sidelines of the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). -/Ukrinform/dpa
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit to troops near the eastern front on Monday after spending the weekend in Germany trying to rally Kiev's allies, and he later stressed the situation on the front line remains "extremely difficult."

"I am happy to be here today and to see you," he said as he presented medals to combat troops during a ceremony at a command post near the city of Kupiansk in the war-battered Kharkiv region.

In his daily video address released in the evening, Zelensky described the situation as "extremely difficult in several parts of the frontline, where Russian troops have amassed maximum reserves."

"They are taking advantage of the delays in aid to Ukraine," he added.

Zelensky also lamented "a deficit of artillery" as well as "frontline air defense" and longer range weapons.

"We are working with our partners as hard as possible to resume and extend support," he added.

Ukraine's battlefield momentum has been stalled for months and Zelensky recently replaced much of the military leadership in the most significant shake-up since the war began.

Ukraine's forces at the weekend withdrew from Avdiivka, a town in the Donestk region that had been fiercely contested.

Russian soldiers have shot dead several seriously injured Ukrainians after taking over Avdiivka, despite agreeing to spare them, Ukrainian forces said on Monday.

The enemy had agreed to carry out the evacuation of the wounded, provide them with assistance and later exchange them, the 110th Brigade, which was forced to withdraw from the town, said on Facebook.

However, at least five of those left behind were later identified as dead in videos posted by the Russian side. The whereabouts of one soldier was unknown.

The Ukrainian public prosecutor had already announced on Sunday that it was initiating investigations for war crimes and murder after six severely wounded soldiers were shot dead by the Russian army.

In another case near the village of Vesele, also in the Donetsk region, a video recorded by a drone is said to show the shooting of two other Ukrainian soldiers after their capture.

The Russian military captured Avdiivka on Saturday after months of failed attempts.

In an effort to shore up support from European partners, Zelensky visited leaders in Paris and Berlin on Friday.

He then attended the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of high-ranking decision-makers, where he met with US Vice President Kamala Harris and appealed for the US Congress to approve a stalled military aid package.

Elsewhere, in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that at least 23,000 people are missing in Ukraine and their fate is unclear.

They may have been arrested or abducted or died - or relatives lost track of each other when fleeing the conflict, the ICRC said.

By the end of January, the ICRC had helped 8,000 Russian and Ukrainian families obtain information about the fate or whereabouts of their missing relatives, the organization reported.

"Not knowing what happened to a loved one is excruciating, and this is the tragic reality for tens of thousands of families who live in a state of constant anguish," said the ICRC's Dusan Vujasanin.

"Families have the right to know what happened to their relatives and, when possible, to exchange news with them," added Vujasanin, who heads the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency Bureau (CTA-B).

The ICRC quoted a family member searching for relatives as saying: "I have no more tears, only pain, and my heart is breaking."