KHARKIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday promised “victory” on a visit to the strategic city of Izyum that was recently recaptured from Russia by Kyiv’s army in a lightning counter-offensive.
The visit comes at a decisive moment in Russia’s six-month invasion, with Ukraine routing Moscow’s forces from swathes of the east and seriously undermining the Kremlin’s ambitions to capture the entire Donbas region of Ukraine.
“Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in deoccupied Izyum. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media.
“We are moving in only one direction — forward and towards victory.”
Pictures distributed by his office showed the Ukrainian leader wearing dark green and flanked by guards as he took selfies with soldiers and thanked troops at a flag-hoisting ceremony.
Ukraine has claimed sweeping successes in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia in recent days, and also says it has clawed back territory along a southern front near the Kherson region on the Black Sea.
Zelensky said that Russia’s occupation of Crimea — annexed by Russia in 2014 — was a “tragedy” and promised that his forces would eventually recapture the peninsula.
Kyiv’s forces in the Kharkiv region have since September 6 recaptured around 8,500 square kilometres (3,200 square miles) and areas home to some 150,000 people, said deputy foreign affairs minister Ganna Maliar.
In the reclaimed eastern Ukrainian village of Bogorodychne, 58-year-old Mykola said he had “barely survived” the Russian occupation during which his brother was killed.
“How can I describe it in words? It was difficult. I was afraid,” he said.
Wiping tears from her eyes with a veil, Mykola’s mother Nina said: “I cry every day. They killed my son.” Moscow said its forces were hitting back on areas recaptured in Kharkiv with “massive strikes,” claiming — without providing evidence — to have inflicted losses on Ukrainian military hardware and servicemen.
In a battlefield update on Wednesday, Russia also claimed to have captured dozens of Ukrainian servicemen in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The Kremlin, which has made little mention of the setbacks in recent days vowed to continue fighting, claiming that the perceived threat Kyiv posed to Russia remains.