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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited Kharkiv to meet with troops defending this important city in the north-east. This is the first time he has ventured out of the capital, Kyiv, since Russian forces began their all-out invasion of Ukraine.

The Presidential Office of Ukraine reported May 29 that Zelenskyi met with front-line soldiers and held a meeting with local officials, including Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov, regional administrator Oleh Synegubov and members of the military command.

“You are risking your life for all of us and for our country,” Zelenskyy’s office quoted the president as telling troops fighting there.

His visit comes as Ukraine’s state emergency services said Russian shelling had started fires near Kharkiv, the country’s second-biggest city. Russia has continued a bombardment of Kharkiv after Ukrainian fighters pushed back their forces from positions near the city a few weeks ago following Russia’s February 24 invasion.

The President’s office said Synegubov told Zelenskyy that Ukrainian forces had made some progress in their counterattack on Russia’s recent offensive.

“But we are not yet in a position to fully inspect some of the liberated settlements while the shelling continues, or to conduct comprehensive demining and start rebuilding critical infrastructure,” Synegubov was quoted as saying.

He added that Russian forces in the region had damaged 2,229 high-rise buildings, 225 of which were completely destroyed. He said the northern and eastern districts of Kharkiv suffered the most damage, with more than 30 percent of the housing stock destroyed.

The numbers could not be verified immediately.

Earlier, in his late-night video address on May 28, Zelenskyy expressed hope that allies will provide needed weapons as Ukrainian forces try to halt the advance of Russian forces in the east amid reports of fierce fighting in the eastern city of Syevyerodonetsk to report.

Zelenskyi said he expected good news on arms shipments this week, without giving details.

Zelenskyi said the military situation in the Donbass region was complicated, adding that defenses were holding up in a number of places including Syevyerodonetsk and Lysychansk, the last major areas under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.

“It’s incredibly difficult there and I’m grateful to everyone who withstood the onslaught,” he said.

Russian invading forces have reportedly made progress in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass, which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, in recent days.

The battle for control of Syevyerodonetsk continues, with Russian forces conducting offensive operations on May 28, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said May 29.

“Russian forces conducted offensive operations using artillery in the area of ​​the city of Syevyerodonetsk,” the General Staff said in a statement on its Facebook page.

Serhiy Hayday, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian troops dug into the Myr Hotel in northern Syeverodonetsk.

He said Russian forces have not been able to advance into the city center and have suffered casualties, but he also said Ukrainian troops are currently unable to “push them out of the hotel”.

Russian artillery also pounded the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road, which Russia must take to end a pincer movement and encircle Ukrainian forces, and police said there was significant destruction in Lysychansk.

The British Ministry of Defense said in its May 28 daily intelligence report that if Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, the Kremlin would likely view it as a key political achievement that it could use to defend its invasion against the Russian people justify.

In his late-night address, Zelenskyy said Ukraine is nearing the point where it will outclass Russia both technologically and in terms of combat capabilities.

His comments came after Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine had started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States.

“Our country’s coastal defenses are not only reinforced by Harpoon missiles — they are deployed by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page May 28.

He said Harpoon land-to-ship missiles would be deployed along with Ukrainian Neptun missiles to defend the country’s coast, including the southern port of Odessa.

Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa Regional Military Administration in southern Ukraine, said in an online post that “we have been handed so many harpoons that we can sink the entire Russian Black Sea fleet. Why not?”

The Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, sank last month after Ukraine launched a missile attack against ships. Moscow says a fire caused a munitions explosion.

After beginning its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia imposed a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Ukraine is a major grain exporter and the freeze on its exports threatens to cause food shortages in a number of countries, including Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 28.

They urged him to lift a Russian blockade of Odessa port to allow Ukrainian grain exports, France said. The Kremlin said Putin told them Moscow was ready to discuss ways to allow Ukraine to resume grain shipments from Black Sea ports.

With reports from AP, AFP and Reuters

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