In a surprise visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the city of Izium on Wednesday, September 14, which until a few days ago was the main Russian stronghold in the northeastern province of Kharkiv. The president assured that his Army has recovered 8,000 km2 in the last month and promised to recover all the territory occupied by the invading troops, including the province of Crimea. Moscow still owns a fifth of Ukraine.
After the recovery of territories comes the assessment of the damage, including human losses, and the drive to rescue the entire country increases. This was stated by the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, on September 14 when he arrived by surprise in the newly recovered city of Izium.
In front of the burned city hall, the Ukrainian flag was raised again, while the president addressed his nation.
“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, look only for one thing: the flag of our state. This means that the heroes are here. This means that the enemy is gone, they have fled,” Zelensky said.
During his speech, the head of state indicated that in the last month his forces have recovered 8,000 km2 of territory previously in the hands of Russian troops.
However, the Kremlin military still owns about a fifth of Ukraine, towns and cities that have come under their rule since President Vladimir Putin launched the war against his former ally in the former Soviet Union on February 24. .
Zelensky promised that his army would retake control of his entire country, including the province of Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
“We will come. I do not know when. Nobody knows when. But we have plans, we will come because it is our land and our people (…) It is probably possible to temporarily occupy the territory of our state, but it is definitely impossible to occupy our people, the Ukrainian people,” said the head of state.
Ukraine begins damage assessment
After months of occupation, the destruction of the strategic city is evident. Buildings with bullet holes, burned houses and fallen bridges, but above all the horror that the population has witnessed.
Russian troops left war-scarred Izium last week in the face of a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive that highlighted what kyiv calls Moscow’s disgraceful withdrawal. In their advance, local forces have also recaptured large swaths of territory throughout the northeastern region of Kharkiv, to which the city belongs.
As in much of the rest of the recovered towns, the Ukrainian authorities must now take stock of the damage and obtain a complete vision of the events that occurred when the Russian troops occupied the city, which before the conflict had a population of around 50,000 inhabitants.
“The sight is very shocking, but it is not shocking to me (…) Because we begin to see the same images of Bucha, of the first unoccupied territories, the same destroyed buildings, murdered people,” Zelensky remarked.
So far, Ukrainian prosecutors have said they have found six bodies with traces of torture in recently retaken villages in Kharkiv.
The head of the local prosecutor’s office, Oleksandr Filchakov, said bodies were also found in Hrakove and Zaliznyche, towns about 60 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv. In addition, the official reported the finding of residents killed and buried by Russian troops in Balaklii, another rescued town.
“We have a terrible image of what the occupants did. Cities like Balakliia, Izium are in the same row as Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin,” Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, mentioning the names of places where Ukrainians claim the Russian military committed atrocities.
Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, was briefly occupied by the invading forces. When the Ukrainian troops recaptured the town, the authorities and human rights groups discovered a large number of war crimes: executions, rapes, mass graves and civilian bodies scattered in the streets, among others. Accusations that Moscow denies.
Izium is located on a major highway that runs from Kharkiv, the province’s namesake city and Ukraine’s second-largest city, to the eastern city of Sloviansk, where Russian forces have been trying to advance.
On the northern outskirts of Izium, the remains of Russian tanks and vehicles lie wrecked along the road.
Russia vows to resume attacks on Kharkiv, but faces difficulties
In recent days, the Kremlin has assured that it will send reinforcements and that it maintains the objectives of its “special military operation” in Ukraine. However, some experts indicate that it will be a difficult mission to carry out.
“Russian troops are unlikely to be strong enough to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River because they don’t seem to be receiving reinforcements. Ukrainian troops will probably be able to exploit this weakness to resume the counteroffensive through the Oskil, if they so wish,” the Institute for the Study of War explained.
The kyiv counter-offensive has also left dozens of Russian Army weapons and heavy vehicles in the hands of local troops.
The Center for Defense Strategies noted that a single Russian unit around Izium left behind more than three dozen T-80 tanks and as many infantry fighting vehicles known by the acronym BMP. Another unit left behind 47 tanks and 27 armored vehicles.
The center said the Moscow military tried to destroy some of the abandoned vehicles with artillery strikes as they drove back. Abandoned equipment is usually destroyed by armed forces so that your opponent cannot use it again.
But the chaos of the Russian withdrawal apparently saw them leave ammunition and weapons intact, experts stress.
Despite Ukraine’s gains, Russia continues to pummel other areas of the nation, adding to the death toll in a conflict that is nearing its seventh month. Russian shelling in seven regions in the past 24 hours has killed at least seven civilians and wounded 22 more, Ukraine’s Presidency office said Wednesday.
Two people were killed and three wounded after Russian soldiers attacked Mikolaiv with S-300 missiles overnight, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said. Settlements near the front line in the Mikolaiv region remain under constant fire.
In addition, in the Lugansk region, where some of the Russian troops who fled from Kharkiv went, heavy bombardments continue, disrupting mobile Internet service, said the region’s governor, Serhiy Haidai.
Last week, President Zelensky assured that the next three months will be crucial for the resolution of the conflict and even pointed to a prompt “employment” of the invaders. But he also conditioned that possible victory on a strengthening of arms, renewing his requests for help from the West.
With Reuters, AP and local media
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