Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that if his nation does not win the tough battle in Bakhmut, Russia could demand that Ukraine make unacceptable compromises, driven by the fatigue and burnout of the Ukrainian people. At the same time he also invited the leader of China to visit him.

If Bakhmut was finally handed over to Russian forces, Vladimir Putin could succeed in putting pressure on Zelensky, both by the Ukrainian people and the international community, to compromise with Russia, the Ukrainian president said.

Ukraine—backed by much of the West—has surprised the world with the strength of its resistance against the larger and better-equipped Russian military. Ukrainian forces have held their capital, Kiev, and pushed Russia out of other strategically important areas.

As the war enters its second year, Zelensky is focused on keeping motivation high among both his military and the general population of Ukraine – particularly the millions who have fled abroad and those living in relative comfort and safety away from the front lines.

Zelensky is also well aware that his country’s success is largely due to waves of international military support, particularly from the United States and Western Europe. However, some in the United States – including Republican Donald Trump, the former US president and current 2024 candidate – have questioned whether Washington should continue to provide Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid.

“The United States really understands that if they stop helping us, we’re not going to win.”he said in the interview.

Zelensky recently visited near Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in a fierce and bloody battle for months. While some Western military analysts have said the city is not of significant strategic importance, Zelensky stressed that “a loss anywhere at range, at this stage of the war, could jeopardize Ukraine’s momentum.”

“We cannot lose steps because war is a pie divided into small pieces of victories. Small victories, small steps”, he said.

Zelensky’s comments were an admission that losing the seven-month battle for Bahmut – the longest of the war so far – would be more of a costly political defeat than a tactical one.

He predicted that pressure from a defeat on Bahamut would come quickly – both from the international community and from his own country. “Our society will feel tired,” he said. “Our society will push me to compromise with them”, stressing that so far he has not felt such pressure.

He expressed confidence, however, that his nation would prevail through a series of “small victories” and “small steps” against a “very big country, big enemy, big army” — but an army, he said, with “small hearts”. .

At the same time Zelensky acknowledged that the war “changed us” and as he said at the end of the interview, “made my society stronger”.

“It could divide the country, or it could unite us,” he said. “I am so grateful. I am grateful to everyone – every partner, our people, thank God, everyone – that we have found this way to be united at this critical moment for the nation. Finding that way was what saved our nation, and we saved our land. We are together.”