(Kyiv) President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the frontline in southern Ukraine on Thursday, asking for missiles and planes from the Europeans, his army mistakenly announcing a Russian withdrawal from a town on the other side of the Dnieper River, in the same area.

In the east of the country, in Bakhmout, where most of the fighting has been concentrated for months, the Ukrainian army has assured that it observes an “exhaustion” of the Russian forces and intends to use them to launch a counterattack “very soon”. -offensive.

Mr. Zelensky, who went to Bakhmout on Wednesday, appeared on Thursday near Kherson, a city from which the Russians withdrew in November 2022 to retreat to the other side of the Dnieper River, the natural border between the two armies.

A few hours after his trip, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that Russian forces had withdrawn on Wednesday from their positions in Nova Kakhovka, a city of 45,000 inhabitants before the war east of Kherson, and where a hydroelectric dam.

Information then denied by the Ukrainian general staff, who admitted an error.

“The occupants are still temporarily in Nova Kakhovka. The information about the supposed withdrawal of the enemy from this locality has been made public as a result of an incorrect use of the available data,” he said.

The false announcement was also immediately denied by the Russian occupation in this region, which Moscow claimed to be annexed.

“I officially declare that all Russian military personnel in Nova Kakhovka, as well as in other places on the left bank of the Dnieper, remain in their positions,” Vladimir Saldo, a local pro-Russian official, wrote on Telegram.

Witnesses in Nova Kakhovka contacted by AFP also said Russian troops were still there.

President Zelensky, traveling in the region on Thursday, made an appearance in particular in Posad-Pokrovské, a locality which suffered significant destruction and was in the hands of the Russian army until its withdrawal in the fall. .

Mr. Zelensky also visited a power station damaged during the wave of strikes against Ukrainian energy facilities throughout the winter.

According to the presidency, this stay was focused on reconstruction in the Kherson region.

The president then called, via videoconference from a train, the European leaders meeting at the summit in Brussels, to ask them for long-range missiles and combat aircraft.

He also called for new sanctions against Russia, progress on his country’s EU membership and progress on its peace plan, according to a European official.

Many Western countries are reluctant to deliver weapons to Kyiv for fear of escalating the conflict by allowing Ukraine to strike at Russian territory.

Some European countries, however, have announced that they are ready to supply Ukraine with Soviet-made fighter jets. Four MIG-29s were delivered to Ukraine on Thursday, the Slovak Defense Ministry said. Poland has also promised to provide 4 MIG-29s.

The Europeans also approved Monday the allocation of 2 billion euros to finance joint purchases of artillery ammunition which Ukraine desperately needs to counter the offensive of Russian troops in the East.

It is on the eastern front that most of the fighting has been concentrated for months and in particular in Bakhmout, a city that has become the scene of massive destruction and heavy losses on both sides.

Despite slow progress, Russian forces still failed to conquer the city, encountering heavy resistance.

“The aggressor does not despair of taking Bakhmout at all costs, despite the losses in men and material,” Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandre Syrsky commented on Telegram.

Russian troops in Bakhmout, including paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, are “running out”, he added, assuring that “very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity”.

Mr. Zelensky’s trips near Bakhmout on Wednesday and near Kherson on Thursday come just after a summit between Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Moscow, where they displayed their alliance against Westerners.

The Russian president cautiously supported the Chinese plan to settle the conflict in Ukraine, while accusing Kyiv of rejecting it.

According to press reports, Xi Jinping could now speak on the phone with Volodymyr Zelensky, which would be a first since the start of the Russian invasion which Beijing has neither publicly condemned nor openly supported.