President Zelenskyj visits the city, which was recaptured in a rapid counter-offensive

epa10183562 A handout photo made available by the Presidential Press Service shows President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (C) at a ceremony to raise the national flag in the retaken city of Izyum in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, 14 September 2022. The Ukrainian army pushed back Russian troops from occupied territory in the north-east of the country in a counterattack. Kharkiv and the surrounding areas have been the target of heavy shelling since February 2022, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, sparking a conflict that provoked destruction and a humanitarian crisis. EPO/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE HANDOUT HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NOT FOR SALE

Volodymyr Zelensky attends a ceremony to raise the national flag in the retaken city of Izium (Image: EPA)

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.”

epa10183557 A handout photo provided by the Presidential Press Service shows Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (CL) at a ceremony to raise the national flag in the recaptured city of Izyum in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, September 14, 2022. The Ukrainian army was pushing Russian troops from occupied territory in the north-east of the country in a counterattack. Kharkiv and the surrounding areas have been the target of heavy shelling since February 2022, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, sparking a conflict that provoked destruction and a humanitarian crisis. EPO/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE HANDOUT HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NOT FOR SALE

The President joined in the national anthem (Image: EPA)

In this photo provided by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the city of Izium, Kharkiv region, Ukraine on Wednesday, September 14, 2022, allowing more Kremlin troops to flee the counter-offensive, dealt a severe blow to Moscow's military prestige. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Zelenskyy’s surprise visit was a rare trip outside of the capital (Image: AP)

Ukrainian military personnel ride a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle amid the Russian attack on Ukraine near the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine September 14, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

It’s driving the pace of Ukraine’s counter-offensive home (Image: Reuters)

A man waves a Ukrainian flag in Izyum, Kharkiv region, eastern Ukraine, 14 September 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Juan BARRETO/AFP) (Photo by JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)

A man waves a Ukrainian flag in the street (Image: AFP via Getty)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock (13390530g) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the unoccupied city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Zelenskyy visited the eastern Ukrainian city of Izyum, one of the largest cities recently recaptured by Kiev's army in a blitz counter-offensive from Russia, the military said. President of Ukraine Zelenskyy visits recaptured city of Izyum, Kharkiv, Ukraine - September 14, 2022

Izium is one of the largest cities recently retaken from Russia (Image: Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock (13390530h) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy poses with soldiers in the unoccupied town of Izyum, Kharkiv Region of Ukraine, Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Zelensky visited the eastern Ukrainian city of Izyum, the military said, one of the largest cities recently recaptured by Kiev's army in a blitz counter-offensive from Russia. President of Ukraine Zelenskyy visits recaptured city of Izyum, Kharkiv, Ukraine - September 14, 2022

Zelensky poses with soldiers (Image: Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock)

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.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by the Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock (13390530c) President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (2R) visits the unoccupied city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Zelenskyy was visiting the eastern Ukraine city of Izyum, the military said, one of the largest cities recently recaptured by Kiev's army in a blitz counter-offensive from Russia. President of Ukraine Zelenskyy visits recaptured city of Izyum, Kharkiv, Ukraine - September 14, 2022

The President salutes frontline troops (Image: Press Office of the President of Ukraine/UPI/Shutterstock)

IZIUM, KHARKIV, UKRAINE – SEPTEMBER 14: Ukrainian soldiers patrol the streets of the city of Izium after the withdrawal of Russian forces as the Russo-Ukrainian war continues on September 14, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Ukrainian soldiers patrol the streets (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

IZIUM, KHARKIV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 14: Ukrainian forces arrive in the city of Izium after Russian forces retreat as the Russo-Ukrainian war continues on September 14, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Ukrainian forces arrive in the city of Izium after the withdrawal of Russian forces (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

IZIUM, KHARKIV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 14: A Ukrainian soldier stands guard in front of the damaged building on Izium streets after the withdrawal of Russian forces, during the Russo-Ukrainian War in Izium, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, on September 14, 2022 is continued. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Buildings there were largely reduced to rubble (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

IZIUM, KHARKIV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 14: A view of the damaged building after the withdrawal of Russian forces as the Russo-Ukrainian war continues in Izium, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on September 14, 2022. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The facade of a building is riddled with bullet holes (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Graffiti reading “Russia” on a door leading to abandoned ammo boxes (Image: AFP via Getty)

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.

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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

Justin Scacco

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