Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been embroiled in Europe’s largest war in eighty years. After being offered to evacuate by NATO, Zelensky stayed in the capital of Kyiv to rally his military and stated “I do not need a ride. I need ammunition.”
The results spoke for themselves.
Not just being a president but using his rallying call to his fellow countrymen to fight off an imperialist aggressor, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) have propped up an impressive string of victories and repelled the Russian Forces (RF) from their capital.
As Ukraine reorganized its forces to counterattack the RF, Zelensky would start to visit some of the hotspots in the war.
Frontline Visits by Zelensky
Some of his earlier trips included visiting Bucha, a city which caught international attention where Russian Forces executed hundreds of civilians. Another visit included the frontlines of Luhansk during Russia’s major offensive in the spring which saw the full temporary capture of the oblast. Though these visits did not cause many quarrels in Russian media, his most recent visits this past autumn became psychological blows.
After the ZSU’s lightning offensive in Kharkiv, Zelensky visited the liberated oblast. The speed of the offensive and collapse of Russian defensive lines prompted panic in the Kremlin. Putin would immediately “annex” the four occupied oblasts and call for a partial mobilization. This would be the start of the Kremlin’s problems.
After a grueling southern offensive in Kherson, the order was made by the Russian Ministry of Defense to withdraw from the city due to supply lines being cut and before the ZSU could close in on the city. After the left bank of Kherson and the provincial capital was liberated, Zelensky would visit in less than 24 hours, much to the ire of Russian media and popular bloggers.
The message was sent—the more Moscow continues to have military setbacks, the more Kyiv would take advantage of it to lower the morale of Russian frontline forces.
The recent visit by Zelensky to Bakhmut was a major morale booster to the ZSU. Mirroring WWI trench warfare, the Battle of Bakhmut has become some of the fiercest fighting of the war since the Siege of Mariupol.
The visit of Zelensky there was seen with shock and vindication by the Kremlin. Russian media has attempted to present Bakhmut as a Ukrainian meat grinder, even though they continue to be repulsed by ZSU defenders for the past five months. With Ukraine’s presidential visit, it shows the situation of the battle has not been going the way the Kremlin has presented it has.
Waning Power in the Kremlin?
Immediately after Zelensky’s visit, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the CEO and head of the Wagner Group visited the frontlines of Bakhmut to challenge Zelensky. After his publicity stunt, Dmitry Peskov announced that Putin would visit the frontlines. This will remain to be seen as the Russian President has cancelled some of the most notable events in the wake of military setbacks.
Prigozhin’s visit to Bakhmut is opportunistic for his own personal gain. Military setbacks have brought infighting amongst Putin’s inner circle and the once internationally feared strongman has lost the prestige and fear he once commanded.
With Wagner leading combat operations in the city, Prigozhin has built up his repertoire as a potential successor if Putin’s regime falls. With the city having little tactical advantage with Ukraine’s liberation of Lyman, Prigozhin has looked for victories to prove that his mercenary organization is the best fighting force.
Zelensky’s recent visit to the White House and Congress was met with thunderous applause and praise from lawmakers and POTUS. Using his charisma once again, he came to DC in the military fatigues, as he vowed to not wear a suit if his people were suffering from the Russian onslaught. This is a stark contrast to the Russian elite who deferred their kids from conscription and have refused to visit their own frontline troops.
Akin to FDR being courted by Churchill, Zelensky has convinced the strongest member of NATO and the one country who can outproduce supplies more efficiently than anyone else that Ukraine can succeed and win this war.
With Zelensky using his charisma and trusting his generals to lead the country to victory, the Ukrainian president has convinced allies that not only can his country resist Russia, but they have the military capabilities of retaking all occupied territories. With further setbacks, Kyiv looks to take advantage of Kremlin infighting, and a wartime leader who has shown more courage than Putin, Ukraine will continue to march forward to victory.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims whose voices are never heard. Julian is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”