KYIV, Ukraine — One photograph shows a kneeling soldier kissing a child inside a subway station, where Ukraine families shelter from Russian airstrikes. In another, an infant and a woman who appears on the brink of tears look out from a departing train car as a man peers inside, his hand spread across the window in a gesture of goodbye.
In an uplifting Father’s Day message Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted 10 photos of parents and children set against the grim backdrop of war, praising fathers who “protect and defend the most precious.”
There are scenes of childbirth, as a man and woman look toward a swaddled baby in what appears to be a hospital room where the spackled walls show scars of fighting. In another, a man lifts a child over a fence toward a woman with outstretched arms on a train platform.
“Being a father is a great responsibility and a great happiness,” Zelenskyy wrote in English text that followed the Ukrainian on Instagram. “It is strength, wisdom, motivation to go forward and not to give up.”
He urged his nation’s fighters to endure for the “future of your family, your children, and, therefore, the whole of Ukraine.”
His message came as four months of war in Ukraine appear to be straining the morale of troops on both sides, prompting desertions and rebellion against officers’ orders. NATO’s chief warned the fighting could drag on for “years.”
“Combat units from both sides are committed to intense combat in the Donbas and are likely experiencing variable morale,” Britain’s defense ministry said in its daily assessment of the war.
“Ukrainian forces have likely suffered desertions in recent weeks,” the assessment said, but added that “Russian morale highly likely remains especially troubled.”
It said “cases of whole Russian units refusing orders and armed stand-offs between officers and their troops continue to occur.”
Separately, the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate released what it said were intercepted phone calls in which Russian soldiers complained about front-line conditions, poor equipment, and overall lack of personnel, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Sunday that Russian and separatist forces have taken control of Metolkine, a settlement just to the east of Sievierodonetsk.
Bakhmut, a city in the Donbas, is 33 miles southwest of the twin cities of Lysyhansk and Siervierodonetsk, where fierce military clashes have been raging. Every day, Russian artillery pummels Bakhmut.
But Bakhmut’s people try to go about their daily lives, including shopping in markets that have opened again in recent weeks.
“In principle, it can be calm in the morning,″ said one resident, Oleg Drobelnnikov. ”The shelling starts at about 7 or 8 in the evening.” Still, he said, it has been pretty calm in the last 10 days or so.
“You can buy food at small farmer markets,″ said Drobelnnikov, a teacher. ”It is not a problem. In principle, educational institutions, like schools or kindergartens, are not working due to the situation. The institutions moved to other regions. There is no work here.”