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Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky visits southern front line during Mykolaiv trip

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KYIV (REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited soldiers on the southern front line during a working trip to the Mykolaiv region, he said on Saturday (June 18), without specifying when the visit took place.

In his trademark khaki T-shirt, the President handed out medals and posed for selfies with the servicemen in what appeared to be an underground shelter, according to a video posted to his official Telegram account.

“Our brave men. Each one of them is working flat out,” he said. “We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win!”

Russian forces reached the outskirts of the regional capital Mykolaiv in early March but were then driven back to the eastern and southern edges of the region, where fighting is ongoing.

Mr Zelensky’s office said the President also visited the city and inspected the destroyed regional administration building, where 37 people were killed in late March when a missile blasted through the building.

He also visited a hospital in Mykolaiv and awarded honours for bravery to Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych and Governor Vitaliy Kim for their work during the four months of Russia’s invasion, his office said in a separate statement.

On Friday, Zelensky hailed Brussels’ support for Kyiv’s European Union bid as a historic achievement, as “fierce battles” raged again in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The European Commission spearheaded a powerful show of solidarity on Friday (June 17) by backing Ukraine for EU candidate status, an endorsement that could add it to the list of countries vying for membership as early as next week.

All 27 leaders must back Ukraine’s candidacy at a Brussels summit next week but the heads of the bloc’s biggest members – France, Germany and Italy – gave full-throated support to the idea during a highly symbolic visit to Kyiv this week.

Even though EU membership could still be years away, Zelensky called the decision a “historic achievement” and said it would “certainly bring our victory closer” against Russia.

“Ukrainian institutions maintain resilience even in conditions of war. Ukrainian democratic habits have not lost their power even now,” Zelensky said in a video address on Saturday.

Fighting has continued to rage in villages outside the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region, which Moscow’s forces have been trying to seize for weeks.

“Now the most fierce battles are near Sievierodonetsk. They (Russia) do not control the city entirely,” the governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, said on Telegram.

A resident said her family is leaving behind everything, including the family dog. “We’re abandoning everything and going. No one can survive such a strike,” said history teacher Alla Bor, waiting with her son-in-law Volodymyr and 14-year-old grandson. “We are abandoning everything, we are leaving our house. We left our dog with food. It’s inhumane but what can you do?”

Meanwhile, Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, on Friday paid a second, surprise, visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, offering a training programme for the country’s military in a fresh show of support for Ukraine’s government.

During the visit, Mr Johnson promised a new package of help with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days and to provide the “strategic endurance” required to drive out Russian forces. Britain has already provided extensive military support to Ukraine.

Mr Johnson said that each Ukrainian soldier would spend three weeks on a course that would provide training in front-line battle skills, medical techniques, cybersecurity and tactics for countering explosives.

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