Volodymyr Zelenskyy sang Ukraine’s national anthem as he watched the country’s flag being raised over the burned-out town hall of a city retaken from the Russians.
The war-torn city of Izium was captured as part of the breathtaking Kyiv counter-offensive that reclaimed large tracts of land in the northeastern Kharkiv region.
President Zelensky’s surprise visit to the area, which was under Russian control until four days ago, underscored the scale of the Kremlin’s rapid and chaotic retreat.
He vowed to lead Ukraine to victory in the conflict, saying: “Our blue and yellow flag is already flying in unoccupied Isium. And so it will be in every Ukrainian city and village.”
After nearly six months under Russian occupation, Izium was left largely devastated, with residential buildings blackened by fire and pockmarked by artillery bombardment.
A gaping hole and piles of rubble stood where a building had collapsed.
“The sight is very shocking, but not shocking to me,” Zelensky told journalists, “because we started seeing the same images from Bucha, from the first occupied territories… same destroyed buildings, killed people.”
Bucha is a small town on the outskirts of Kyiv from which Russian forces withdrew in March. As a result, Ukrainian authorities discovered the bodies of hundreds of civilians buried in streets, courtyards and mass graves. Many bore marks of torture.
Earlier Wednesday, an emotional-looking Zelensky presented medals to soldiers who liberated the area of Balakliia, another town retaken in recent days.
Local residents and local police told reporters that innocent locals were killed during months of Russian occupation. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Ukraine’s president says his army has liberated around 3,100 square miles of territory so far this month, a strip of land almost the size of the island of Cyprus.
Russia announced its withdrawal from key cities, but it has not been possible to confirm these figures.
Ukraine’s sudden advances over the past week have cheered supporters in the West, though leaders say it’s too early to know if Kyiv can keep up the pace.
“It is clear that Ukrainians have made significant progress. But I think it’s going to be a long road,” US President Joe Biden said.
A day after a 90-minute phone call with Vladimir Putin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the Russian president “unfortunately” still doesn’t think his invasion was a mistake.
Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, but Kyiv is now going on the offensive in both areas.
The White House, which has provided billions of dollars in arms and assistance to Ukraine, said the United States is likely to announce a new military aid package in the “coming days.”
On the road to Izium, bus stops were daubed with “Z” marks, the symbol used by Russian forces to identify themselves, and the charred remains of tanks and armored personnel carriers lay by the roadside.
Liubov Sinna, 74, who had a pink hood wrapped around her face, said residents were still anxious.
“We’ve waited a long time for our boys. Of course we feel positive. Joy. But there is also fear – fear that the Russians might come back here,” she said.
“Because we have lived this whole half year. We ate it in basements. We’ve been through everything you can go through. We absolutely cannot say that we feel safe.”
There is no gas, electricity or water service in the town, she added, saying she wasn’t sure how people would get through the winter.
Ukraine has accused Russia of attacking civilian infrastructure in recent days in retaliation for its battlefield losses.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories like this, Visit our news page.
Get the top news, feel-good stories, analysis and more
https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/14/president-zelensky-visits-city-recaptured-in-rapid-counter-offensive-17378409/ President Zelenskyj visits the city, which was recaptured in a rapid counter-offensive