President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video on Friday, Dec. 29, while standing in front of a sign saying “Avdiivka is Ukraine.” The video was filmed on what appears to be the entry road into the embattled town at risk of being encircled from three sides.

As the President spoke, the sound of shelling could be heard in the background.

“Avdiivka. I visited the positions of the 110th Mechanized Brigade,” he wrote on Telegram alongside a video of him giving medals to soldiers.

The highly symbolic gesture comes at a moment when Russian troops have been dealing with massive casualties in a nearly three-month offensive on the important town within artillery range of the Russian-controlled Donetsk airport.

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“This is one of the most difficult areas of the front line,”Zelensky wrote.

“I thank all those who are at the first line [of fire] for their service, for this year during which the entire country survived thanks to its soldiers,” he said.

Bakhmut déjà vu?

Zelensky has visited the front line many times since Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine in February 2022. 

The trip to Avdiivka on Friday was reminiscent of Zelensky’s forays into Bakhmut earlier in the year. At that time, there was reported to be a debate between Zelensky and military officials about whether to defend Bakhmut by bringing in reserves or pulling back as part of a controlled retreat. 

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Many interpreted Zelensky’s visits as an attempt to turn “Fortress Bakhmut” into a symbolic rally cry to shore up morale and show Western allies Ukraine’s resolve. Other analysts claim the decision to defend Bakhmut so fiercely ultimately took the sting out of Ukraine’s summer offensive.

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Russian forces have been trying to encircle Avdiivkasince October. Unlike Bakhmut, however, which was of limited strategic value, Avdiivka is not only important for Russian forces in their effort to fully control the city of Donetsk and its airport, but also a crucial fortification node for the Ukrainians.

In the event of a Ukrainian pull-out, the Russians would establish much better lines of logistics and communication across the Donetsk region’s administrative territory, which Moscow has already annexed de jure. 

Avdiivka, which had a population of about 30,000 before 2022, has become a key battle site since Ukraine’s stunted counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region culminated in the early autumn.

In a subsequent video, apparently filmed on the train back to Kyiv, Zelensky addressed Friday’s massive air strikes on the entire country. 

“It is crucial for the world to react to this latest act of terror,” he wrote.

He thanked the leaders of nations that have supported Ukraine with air defense and added: “We will continue to strengthen our air defense and work towards bringingthe war back to this human scum, to their home inRussia – where it came from.”

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