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Photos: Zelenskyy visits troops as Putin praises Russian determination

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the eastern city of Bakhmut, the scene of some of the most intense fighting since Russia invaded the country.

He met the troops on Tuesday and praised their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery rumbled in the background.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also praised the “courage and self-sacrifice” of his forces in Ukraine, but he did so at a ceremony in an opulent and glittering hall of the Kremlin.

Both leaders sought to boost morale as the stalemate conflict moves through its 10th month and winter begins.

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“Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time is passing, and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the wasted army of the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said.

The invasion of Russia, which began on February 24, has lost momentum in recent months. The annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia oblasts remain fiercely contested. The capture of Bakhmut would cut Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to advance on cities that are key Ukrainian strongholds in the province.

At the Kremlin ceremony, on a holiday honoring Russia’s military and security agencies, Putin presented awards to the Moscow-appointed heads of four Ukrainian regions that Russia illegally annexed in September.

“Our country has often faced challenges and defended its sovereignty,” Putin said. “Now, Russia again faces that challenge. Soldiers, officers and volunteers are showing outstanding examples of courage and self-sacrifice on the front lines.”

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He promised to reinforce the units there with more equipment and personnel. The regions are under pressure from a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Putin also called on counterintelligence officers to step up efforts to “derail the activities of foreign spy agencies and quickly track down traitors, spies and saboteurs.”

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Russia now controls about 18 percent of Ukraine’s internationally recognized areas, including previously seized parts of Donbas and Crimea, he said.

With fighting in the east deadlocked, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s powerhouse, hoping to leave locals without power as cold winter sets in.

Life in the Ukrainian capital took a small but welcome step towards normalcy with the reopening of two of Kyiv’s main metro stations for the first time since the start of the war. The key centers of Maidan Nezalezhnosti and Khreschatyk, like the capital’s other underground stations, have served as shelters during Russian airstrikes.

“It’s the feeling that, despite everything, we are going back to the routine we were used to,” said passenger Denys Kapustin, 24. “This is very important, very important.”

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