President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid a surprise visit on Wednesday to the newly recaptured town of Izium, a key logistics hub in the northeastern Kharkiv region, and thanked his army for their success in retaking territory from Russian forces.
Thousands of Russian troops fled Izium at the weekend, leaving behind large amounts of ammunition and equipment, in their worst defeat since they were driven back from the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in March.
“It is probably possible to temporarily occupy the territory of our state. But it is definitely impossible to occupy our people, the Ukrainian people,” he said at a ceremony where the yellow and blue national flag was raised outside Izium’s charred city council.
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“Before, when we looked up, we always looked for the blue sky, the sun. And today we, and especially the people in the temporarily occupied territories, looking up, are looking for only one thing - the flag of our state. This means the heroes are here. This means the enemy is gone, they have fled.”
Earlier, Ukraine’s 25th Separate Airborne Sicheslav Brigade published pictures of Zelenskyy, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar and military personnel in Izium.
Commenting on the devastation he had seen in Izium, Zelenskyy said: “It’s not a shock for me... because we saw the same scenes as in Bucha... The same destroyed buildings and people killed.”
Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, was occupied for a short period of time by invading Russian forces. Ukraine and its Western allies have accused the Russian forces of perpetrating war crimes there, something Moscow denies.
Izium, which had a prewar population of about 50,000, is located on an important highway that runs from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second biggest city, to the eastern city of Sloviansk, that Russian forces have been trying to advance toward.
Zelenskiy said in a late night address on Tuesday that his army had now liberated around 8,000 square kilometers (3,100 square miles) of territory so far this month, though Russia still holds about a fifth of Ukraine.
He has vowed to recapture all Ukrainian territory from Russian forces, including Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
“We will come. I don’t know when. Nobody knows when. But we have plans, so we’ll come, because it’s our land and our people,” he said.
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