KYIV (Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Ukrainian troops on the southeastern front and handed out medals, his office said on Sunday, and his spokesperson said he came very close to exchanges of fire on the front line.
Zelenskiy undertook the journey to Zaporizhzhia region amid speculation that his popular army chief could soon be sacked.
The president, who has frequently toured areas close to the front, met soldiers in the village of Robotyne, his office said, almost on the battle line.
"This is Robotyne and there is intense fighting going on,"Serhiy Nikiforov, the president's spokesman, told reporters. "So it was quite close to explosions, but I wouldn't dramatise the situation."
Ukrainian soldiers quoted on social media said the area Zelenskiy visited carried risks because of intense drone and artillery activity.
Zelenskiy said in a statement that he had come to the area to support and bestow honours on Ukrainian soldiers.
"They face a difficult and critical mission to repel the enemy and defend Ukraine," he said.
The southeastern settlement of Robotyne was liberated in late August last year in the counteroffensive launched against Russian forces. In overall terms, the counteroffensive has had only limited success in recapturing territory against heavily dug enemy troops.
The visit to the battle lines was taking place at a time of uncertainty over the fate of army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.
Two sources said on Friday that the Ukrainian government had informed the White House that it plans to fire the country's top military commander overseeing the war against Russian occupation forces.
The alleged move to oust Zaluzhnyi, who has clashed with Zelenskiy over a range of issues, follows the uncertain results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Known as "the Iron General", Zaluzhnyi is extremely popular. His removal could hurt morale among Ukrainian troops battling to hold positions along more than 600 miles (1,000 km) of frontlines against a vast Russian force armed with large munitions stockpiles.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk;Editing by David Goodman, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Ron Popeski and Nick Zieminski)