President Volodymyr Zelensky met with frontline units participating in Ukraine’s offensive on Monday, June 26, and handed out awards for bravery, thanking soldiers for their sacrifice and taking dozens of selfies at the request of his troops.

In a Monday evening speech, the Ukrainian leader said that he and his motorcade had “covered hundreds of kilometers.” Zelensky met with soldiers and officers from at least five combat brigades in protected locations during the course of the day.

He visited the Khortytsia Operational and Strategic Group, Donetsk region, and the Tavria Joint Troops Command, that has primary responsibility for Ukrainian army operations in the Zaporizhzhia sector, official statements said.

Soldiers receiving medals for bravery and achievement were mostly from formations currently deployed on the frontline, among them the 5th Assault Brigade, 36th Marine Brigade, 81st Air Assault Brigade and 92nd Mechanized Brigade. Another unit that was visited and received awards was the 3rd Presidential Brigade, the former ceremonial unit responsible for guarding public buildings in the capital Kyiv during peacetime.

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A medals citation for Captain Oleksandr Nasteko, commander of a drone and reconnaissance unit assigned to 3rd Battalion, 92nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, praised the veteran officer for having joined the military as a volunteer in Feb. 2022 and for “outstanding achievements” in battles in the Kharkiv, Kupyansk and Bakhmut sectors, according to a statement from the military blogger Anton Gerashchenko on Tuesday, June 27.  

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Ukrainian ground forces commander General Oleksandr Syrsky accompanied Zelensky for at least part of the tour. Syrsky later singled out Captain Oleh Olivi, a company commander in the 81st Air Assault Brigade, for leading troops into battles, where they purportedly, destroyed dozens of Russian armored vehicles and killed hundreds of enemy soldiers.

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Information about Zelensky’s near-frontline tour was tightly-controlled by his office and, aside from selfies taken with the President and posted by individual soldiers, not possible to verify independently. Syrsky’s claims about Olivi’s and his Brigade’s achievements are, likewise, unconfirmed.

The Ukrainian leader was, reportedly, briefed on ongoing and future operations by general officers and local commanders during the tour.

Ukraine’s summer offensive in the Donbas sector has seen incremental but continuous progress, led by veteran units such as the 36th Marines and 81st Air Assault Brigades. Last week, close to the occupied city of Donetsk, Ukrainian troops had, for the first time in the war, captured positions held by the Russians since 2014.

Russian propaganda platforms have claimed that the offensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) which began in June has been nearly stopped dead and has suffered heavy losses. To date, the worst setback suffered by AFU troops was in the Mala Tokmachka sector, when an element of the 47th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, an untested unit, hit a minefield and was ambushed during a June 8 attack, losing multiple German Leopard 2 tanks and US-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, with a reported eight casualties.

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Zelensky in his awards ceremony remarks said that Ukraine’s offensive was progressing well and that Ukrainian battlefield success was thanks to the sacrifice being made by frontline soldiers. That success would continue, he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky poses for a photograph with a soldier following an awards ceremony in the southern sector. Photo: Presidential website.

Captain Oleksandr Nastenko, a former civilian now commanding of 92nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade’s drone and reconnaissance unit, receives the Bohdan Khmelnitsky military achievement award (3rd Class) from President Volodymyr Zelensky at a medals ceremony in Donbas. Photo: Presidential website.   

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky poses for a photograph with men of the 5th Assault Brigade, Donbas sector. Photo: Presidential website.

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