February 2, 2023

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Zelenskyj urges Ukrainians to remain united

As winter conditions stalled military forces and both sides faced spring offensives, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday urged Ukrainians from all regions to remain united.

His comments came in a speech to mark Unity Day, a holiday created to commemorate events that took place more than a century ago – and one whose meaning has taken on added poignancy in the wake of the Russian invasion.

The day marks a 1919 treaty signed in Kyiv to unite the republics of Ukraine and western Ukraine into a single independent state, and since Russian forces rolled over the border last February, Zelenskyy noted, many have Ukrainian militants defended their homes far from their actual homes.

“We’re all together no matter where we were born and raised,” he said. “Say today: I will defend my Ukraine. My unit.”

For Mr. Zelensky, high-flying rhetoric has become a critical tool at home and abroad as he seeks to place the war in the context of global democratic values ​​and mobilize public opinion. On Sunday he met with Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister who helped rally support for Ukraine at the start of the conflict.

But his speech came just days after Ukraine suffered a setback in its campaign for more Western military support.

Ukraine had hoped to secure an influx of German-made Leopard 2 tanks from its European allies, but western military officials meeting in Germany said on Friday they had failed to reach an agreement.

Germany has so far refused to ship Leopards from its own stocks or to give official permission to other countries that have them, like Poland, to export the tanks to Ukraine. But it has said it plans to train Ukrainians in its use, and on Sunday Polish military officials said they would do the same.

Some military officials have been looking for signals from Germany that it might agree to moving the tanks, even if it refuses to give formal approval. In an interview On French television, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock indicated on Sunday that her government would not object if the Poles sent her.

And on Sunday, new House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, argued on ABC’s This Week that the United States should send at least one M1 Abrams — its best tank — to Ukraine to help Germany to convince the go-ahead for the leopards.

“What I’m hearing is that Germany is waiting for us to take the lead,” McCaul said.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv have made major gains on the battlefield since the start of winter, although Russian military authorities say they have seized areas around the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which they have been encircling for months and then trying to capture amid some of the fiercest battles of war.

The slowing of the pace of territorial changes followed gains by Ukrainian forces in the south and north-east of the country, which turned the war dynamics in their favor.

Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief said in an interview with a Ukrainian news website on Sunday that the next few months would most likely be crucial.

“When spring and early summer are behind us, maybe we can start talking about the end of the war,” official Vadym Skibitsky said. His comment reflected the view of both Ukrainian military officials and military analysts that a new phase of the war was at hand.

Despite the lack of recent progress on either side, civilians are still paying a mounting toll.

Authorities in Sumy, a region in northern Ukraine, said Sunday that Russian forces across the border fired dozens of shells at the village of Esman a day earlier, damaging dozens of houses and injuring a 17-year-old boy.

In the Mykolaiv province of southern Ukraine, a car ran over a landmine on Saturday, local authorities said, injuring four people, including a baby.

And Russian forces fired heavy artillery at Nikopol district in Dnipropetrovsk province, Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the regional military administration, said on social messaging app Telegram.

A focus of the next phase of the fighting could be Zaporizhia, a region in southern Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed in October.

According to military experts, in recent weeks both sides have strengthened their positions in the regions, including near the city of Orikhiv, which has been shelled by Russian forces for months.

A spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said on Sunday Russian forces had secured a more advantageous position in the province over the past day. There was no independent confirmation of his claims, which was reported by state news agency Tass.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Forces, Colonel Yevhen Yerin, said on national television that small groups of Russian soldiers had attacked Ukrainian positions in Zaporizhia, but there had been no large-scale fighting.