- Days after Putin’s dead-of-night trip in Ukraine, Zelenskyy visited troops near the front lines.
- Putin’s visit to Mariupol featured edited videos and was criticized by Ukrainian officials.
- Photos show the two leaders’ starkly different trips to the two cities, one of which is the site of fierce fighting.
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Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s surprise trip to the occupied city of Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited troops in Bakhmut — currently the heart of the bloodiest fighting in the war.
Putin’s dead-of-night trip occurred this past weekend. State media followed the Russian President meeting with residents who told him the occupied, war-torn Ukrainian city is a “little piece of paradise.” He drove along city streets, saw inside new apartment complex, and visited a children’s playground and renovated theater.
Daylight tells a different story of Mariupol, though. None of the video footage showed the widespread ruin across the city. Russia’s invasion destroyed vast areas of buildings and infrastructure, leaving tens of thousands dead, the city’s former mayor told the Associated Press.
But for what seemed like a carefully constructed PR trip for Putin, the visit had one media snafu. The Kremlin shared an official video of Putin chatting with residents in front of a new apartment building, but state media was caught editing the video to remove a heckler’s comments from the background.
In the original video, Putin meets with local residents near a new apartment complex in the dead of night. During the conversation, a woman can be heard interrupting Putin and the residents, yelling “It’s not real! It’s all for show!”
A newer version of the video released later was missing the heckler’s comments.
Ukrainian officials condemned the trip, which occurred just two days after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest, comparing it to a murderer returning to the scene of a crime.
Zelenskyy visits troops fighting on the front lines in Bakhmut
Zelenskyy took a very different trip on Wednesday, visiting soldiers fighting on the front lines in Bakhmut.
Photos show the Ukrainian President shaking hands with soldiers, taking selfies, and awarding troops.
“I am honored to be here today,” he said, according to BBC, “in the east of our country, in Donbas, and to award our heroes, to thank you, to shake your hands.”
Zelenskyy’s own PR trip comes as he is pushing for Western nations to give more weapons, military equipment, and aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s invasion.
The region has seen some of the bloodiest fighting in the war, with the past few weeks featuring staggering casualties for both sides.
Experts are divided on the strategic importance to either side, but Ukraine’s forces refuse to give up on Bakhmut.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly vowed not to retreat from Bakhmut, underscoring that his top military advisors have called for reinforcing the position of Ukrainian forces in the city in order to inflict maximum damage on Russian forces in the area.
Russia has suffered heavy losses in Bakhmut, which has become the longest battle in the war so far. An intelligence assessment released by the British Ministry of Defense last week suggested that Russia’s “combat power” was depleted to such an extent that “even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable.”
That said, top military analysts have questioned the logic of Ukraine continuing to dedicate valuable resources and personnel to the battle for Bakhmut, warning that this could hurt Kyiv’s ability to launch another counteroffensive and regain territory from the Russian occupiers.
“Although the attrition ratio in Bakhmut has been advantageous for the duration of the battle, the ratio is much less favorable now with [Russian] forces holding high ground on the city’s flanks. Much of Russia’s losses are prisoners of less military value than Ukrainian soldiers,” Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said on Twitter earlier this week.
“There is a risk that, by committing the necessary forces to continue holding Bakhmut (where its attrition ratio isn’t favorable), Ukraine will sap some of the forces available for its strategically more important spring offensive,” Lee, a former US Marine infantry officer, went on to say. But Lee also underscored that the issue isn’t “black and white,” and it’s possible “Russia may overextend itself trying to take the city and leave itself vulnerable to counterattack.”