Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with hand on heart, watched his country’s flag rise Wednesday above the recaptured city of Izium, making a rare foray outside the capital that highlights Moscow’s embarrassing retreat from a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russian forces left the war-scarred city last week as Kyiv’s soldiers pressed a stunning advance that has reclaimed large swaths of territory in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region.
As Zelenskyy looked on and sang the national anthem, the Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the burned-out city hall. After almost six months under Russian occupation, Izium was left largely devastated, with apartment buildings blackened by fire and pockmarked by artillery strikes.
A gaping hole and piles of rubble stood where one building had collapsed.
“The view is very shocking, but it is not shocking for me,” Zelenskyy told journalists, “because we began to see the same pictures from Bucha, from the first de-occupied territories … the same destroyed buildings, killed people.”
Bucha is a small city on Kyiv’s outskirts from which Russian troops withdrew in March. In the aftermath, Ukrainian authorities discovered the bodies of hundreds of civilians dumped in streets, yards and mass graves. Many bore signs of torture.