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Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy visits troops near Bakhmut

March 22, 2023

The Ukrainian president said he was honored to shake hands with soldiers on the front line. Meanwhile, the IMF announced a $15.6 billion loan to support post-war reconstruction. DW has the latest.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy shaking a soldier's hand in Bakhmut
Volodymyr Zelenskyy used the visit to award medals to soldiers in a warehouse near the battlefieldImage: Ukrainian Presidency/AA/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited military positions near the front line city of Bakhmut on Wednesday.

"Donetsk region. The front line positions of the Ukrainian military in the Bakhmut area," Zelenskyy said in a post on Telegram, which included a video of him greeting soldiers.

He said this part of eastern Ukraine has seen the longest and bloodiest battles since the start of Russia's invasion.

The Ukrainian president used the visit to award medals to soldiers in a warehouse near the battlefield.

"I am honored to be here today to award our heroes. To shake hands and thank them for protecting the sovereignty of our country," Zelenskyy said.

Bakhmut is a small industrial city that had a pre-war population of around 80,000 people.

Russian forces, spearheaded by Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group mercenaries, have been waging a monthslong assault on the city.

Although Russian soldiers came close to encircling the Bakhmut, Ukraine's military has held ground to the east and launched several counteroffensives.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting soldiers near Bakhmut
Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked soldiers for protecting Ukraine's sovereignty Image: Ukrainian Presidency/AA/picture alliance

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war on Wednesday, March 22:

Britain's Prince William visits Poland

Prince William arrived in Poland on Wednesday to express his gratitude to Polish and British troops involved in efforts to help Ukraine. 

"I'm here because I want to thank the Polish and British troops working in close and crucial partnership," William told Polish news outlets. "I also want to pay tribute to the inspiring humanity of the Polish people. You have opened your hearts as much as your homes."

William was in Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, where he met Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Balszczak.

After meeting with troops, William was to tour office buildings in the capital Warsaw which are being used to accommodate about 300 Ukrainian women and children.  

On Thursday, William is expected to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and lay a wreath at Warsaw's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He is also set to meet with more Ukrainians who have settled in Poland. 

The trip was not publicized in advance, and is being conducted under tight security.  

Ukrainian former deputy PM wary of China's peace plan  

A former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, told DW that she is skeptical of China's mediation efforts regarding the war. 

"We've seen the plan that — or so-called plan — that China has put forward. We did not see the actual preconditions for actual peace being reached through that particular plan because it doesn't say anything about the withdrawal of Russian troops from the sovereign territory of the sovereign independent country with recognized borders under international law," she said.

"So I'm a bit skeptical with regard to that suggestion, to put it very diplomatically and very mildly," she added.       

Klympush-Tsintsadze said peace cannot ultimately be achieved unless Russia withdraws from occupied territory in Ukraine. 

China's 12-point plan on the conflict does not explicitly urge Russia's withdrawal, but calls for "respecting the sovereignty of all countries."  

Swedish Parliament passes NATO accession bill

The Swedish Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted in favor of legislation to join NATO, amid regional security concerns due to Russia's assault on Ukraine.     

The NATO bill was passed in a 269-to-37 vote after hours of debate. The Left Party and Greens were the only parties to oppose the bill. 

Turkey has expressed opposition to Sweden's NATO bid, as Ankara has accused the Nordic country of harboring members of terrorist organizations. Sweden has denied the allegations. 

In addition to Sweden, Russia's neighbor Finland has also expressed interest in joining the alliance.  

Turkey's Parliament has begun the process of ratifying Finland's entry into NATO, but has not greenlit Sweden's bid. Hungary has also taken steps toward approving Finland's NATO accession, but is holding back its approval of Sweden's application.

IMF to loan $15.6 billion to Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will provide Ukraine with a $15.6 billion (€14.5 billion) loan for economic recovery, the organization announced late on Tuesday.

The deal is the first time the IMF has agreed to loan money to a war-torn country in its 77-year history, Bloomberg reported. IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva previously met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv last month.

"In addition to the horrific humanitarian toll, Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to have a devastating impact on the economy," IMF Ukraine mission chief Gavin Gray said.

He said Ukraine's economy had contracted by 30% in the past year and poverty has increased since Russia's invasion.

The funds will be delivered over four years to support "long-term growth in the context of post-war reconstruction" as well as Ukraine's potential journey to joining the European Union.

Ukraine: Behind the front lines, businesses adapt to war

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal welcomed the agreement.

"In conditions of a record budget deficit, this program will help us finance all critical expenditure and ensure macroeconomic stability and strengthen our interaction with other international partners," he said in a message on Telegram. 

The United States is the IMF's largest shareholder.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has previously urged the IMF to provide new financing for Ukraine. She also welcomed the announcement.

"An ambitious and appropriately conditioned IMF program is critical to underpin Ukraine's reform efforts, including to strengthen good governance and address risks of corruption, and provide much needed financial support," Yellen said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the World Bank estimated that Ukraine needs $411 billion for reconstruction and recovery from Russia's invasion. It's a jump from the $349 billion estimated for Ukrainian recovery last September.    

The World Bank's Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Anna Bjerde said she believes Ukraine's reconstruction will "take several years." She said both public and private investment is needed, but recovery costs will rise as the war drags on.   

UK says no nuclear escalation in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Wednesday that there was no nuclear escalation in the war in Ukraine.

His comments come a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the United Kingdom for supplying Ukraine with tank ammunition that contains depleted uranium.

"There is no nuclear escalation," Cleverly told reporters on Wednesday.

"The only country in the world that is talking about nuclear issues is Russia. There is no threat to Russia, this is purely about helping Ukraine defend itself" 

The United Kingdom has used depleted uranium in its armor-piercing shells for decades because the material helps penetrate tank armor. It does not consider these rounds to be nuclear capable. Russia has also been known to use this same technology.

"It's worth making sure everyone understands that just because the word uranium is in the title of depleted uranium munitions, they are not nuclear munitions, they are purely conventional munitions," Cleverly said.

Kishida commits aid to Ukraine-backing Poland

Japan's prime minister has pledged development support to help Poland assist Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia's invasion.

After making a surprise visit to Kyiv and meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was hosted in Warsaw by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

"Bearing in mind the increasing burden on Poland due to the prolonged invasion of Ukraine," Kishida said Japan would offer Poland assistance to support its role and is looking to "vigorously build up" projects.

Kishida noted that it was crucial for like-minded countries such as Japan and Poland, to remain united in their support for Ukraine and in furthering sanctions against Russia.

In a joint conference with Kishida, Morawiecki said that at the time when a "new geo-political order " was becoming apparent, both countries understand the "threat to world peace and international order coming from Russia's imperialism."

Warsaw has supplied military, humanitarian, and political support to Kyiv during the invasion which has lasted 13 months.

Fumio Kishida shakes hands with Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Kishida pledged 'unwavering support' to Kyiv in a surprise visit on TuesdayImage: Alina Yarysh/REUTERS

Russia calls West's reaction to Putin-Xi meeting 'hostile'

The Kremlin has dismissed "hostile" reactions from the West to Putin's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.

"As for the reaction of the collective West, the fact that on all issues this reaction took on an unfriendly and hostile nature is not news to anyone," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said after Xi departed on Wednesday.

Xi and Putin building a new political order, MEP says

Xi's visit to Moscow this week was about more than drumming up support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a Green member of the European Parliament.

"Xi Jinping and Putin are building a new hegemonic order wherein they intend to dominate globally," German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer told DW's Terry Martin.

Bütikofer was also skeptical about Beijing’s 12-point position paper on the war in Ukraine, which Xi and Putin discussed.

"In the first point of the paper, it says that national sovereignty and territorial integrity should be the principles on which policies are built. But then later in the paper, it clearly also stipulates that, of course, the so-called security interests of Russia also have to be taken account of," he said.

"And basically what that tells us is the following: If you are a smaller country and you have a more powerful neighbor, then your sovereignty and territorial integrity has to come with a rebate to your more powerful authoritarian neighbor."

Russia may be losing momentum in Bakhmut: UK

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia's assault on the front line city of Bakhmut could be slowing in the wake of a recent Ukrainian counterattack.

Ukraine controls a patch of territory to the west of the city, while Russian forces have been attacking from most other directions.

"Fighting continues around the town center and the Ukrainian defense remains at risk from envelopment from the north and south," the ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing.

"However, there is a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, partially because some Russian MoD (Ministry of Defense) units have been reallocated to other sectors."

Russian drone strike kills three at school

Three people were reportedly killed and several more injured after a Russian drone hit a vocational high school near Kyiv overnight.

"Three people died, two people were injured and one person was rescued. Four people are probably under the rubble," Ukraine's State Emergency Service said on Telegram on Wednesday.

The school is located around 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the capital, Kyiv.

Authorities said the drone attack "partially destroyed" two floors of student dormitories as well as a building that is used for studying.

It also caused a fire that affected 300 square metres (3,200 square feet). It was extinguished on Wednesday morning.

Ukraine's military blamed Iranian-manufactured drones for the attack.

"Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling incidents, and that's just in one last night of Russian terror against Ukraine," Zelenskyy later said on Twitter.

Xi departs Moscow

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Moscow on Wednesday morning after after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Xi was seen off at Vnukovo airport by a guard of honor playing the Chinese and Russian national anthems, local media reported. High-ranking Russian officials were also in attendance.

During the visit, the two leaders hailed a "new era" of relations and discussed China's 12-point proposal for a cease-fire in Ukraine.

However, Putin stopped short of endorsing the plan, saying it could only be the basis for peace once "the West and Kyiv are ready for it."

Critics say the plan is thin on solutions and could allow Russia to keep the territory it has occupied in eastern Ukraine.

Xi's visit gave a strong political boost to Putin, who is increasingly isolated on the world stage. However, there was no mention of potential Chinese weapons supplies to Russia or any other support for the invasion. Beijing has repeatedly denied Western accusations that it plans to arm Moscow, or is already secretly doing so.

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

Russia repeatedly bombarded Ukraine's electricity and gas infrastructure in recent months, but the nation was able to make it through the winter. DW looks at how Ukraine has maintained its energy supply despite the war.

Many countries issued sanctions against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. DW spoke with European officials who are working to stop Russia from circumventing these sanctions via third countries.

zc/es (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)