Zelensky visits retaken strategic city

September 15, 2022 12:00 am | Updated 05:41 am IST - Izium

Ukrainian President watched as his country’s flag was hoisted in Izium; Russian shelling continues

Spirited show:Volodymyr Zelensky at the flag raising in the recaptured city of Izium in Kharkiv on Wednesday.AFPSTR

Spirited show:Volodymyr Zelensky at the flag raising in the recaptured city of Izium in Kharkiv on Wednesday.AFPSTR

His hand on his heart, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky watched as his country’s flag was hoisted on Wednesday above the recently recaptured city of Izium, a rare foray outside the capital that highlighted Moscow’s retreat in the face of a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian forces left the war-scarred city last week as Kyiv’s soldiers pressed a stunning advance that has reclaimed large swathes of territory in the country’s northeastern Kharkiv region.

As Mr. Zelensky looked on and sang the national anthem, the Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the burned-out city hall building in the largely devastated town, where apartment buildings are blackened by fire and pockmarked by artillery strikes.

The centre of one residential building had collapsed, a gaping hole and piles of rubble where homes used to be.

“The view is very shocking but it is not shocking for me,” Mr. Zelensky said in brief comments to the press, “because we began to see the same pictures from Bucha, from the first de-occupied territories... the same destroyed buildings, killed people.”

Prosecutors said they have found six bodies with traces of torture in recently retaken villages in the Kharkiv region.

“We have a terrible picture of what the occupiers did. ... Such cities as Balakliia, Izium are standing in the same row as Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin,” Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, listing the names of places where the Ukrainians have alleged Russian forces committed atrocities.

The head of the Kharkiv prosecutor’s office, Oleksandr Filchakov, said bodies were found in Hrakove and Zaliznyche, villages around 60 km southeast of Kharkiv.

He said investigators were also learning of residents being killed and buried by Russian troops in another retaken town, Balakliia.

On the northern outskirts of Izium, the remains of Russian tanks and vehicles lay shattered along the road.

Mr. Zelensky said that as Ukrainian soldiers retook villages, “the life comes back.”

In the wake of the recent gains, a new front line has started to emerge along the Oskil River that largely traces the eastern edge of the Kharkiv region, a Washington-based think tank said on Wednesday.

“Russian troops are unlikely to be strong enough to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River because they do not appear to be receiving reinforcements, and Ukrainian troops will likely be able to exploit this weakness to resume the counteroffensive across the Oskil if they choose," the Institute for the Study of War said.

The counteroffensive has also left more weapons in Ukrainian hands.

Russian forces likely left behind dozens of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other heavy weaponry as they fled Ukraine’s advance in the east of the country, a Ukrainian think tank said on Wednesday. The Center for Defense Strategies said one single Russian unit that was around Izium left behind more than three dozen T-80 tanks and about as many infantry fighting vehicles.

In other areas, Russia continued its attacks, causing the death toll to keep rising in a war that has dragged on for nearly seven months.

Russian shelling of seven Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours killed at least seven civilians and wounded 22 more, Ukraine’s presidential office reported on Wednesday morning.

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