Zelenskyy visits town recently retaken from Russia in bold show of force

·2 min read

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited recaptured towns in the northeast of his country on Wednesday, sending a strong and clear message to Vladimir Putin: Ukraine intends to keep Russian troops on the run.

"You see what Russia destroyed, you see the scale of this tragedy," Zelenskyy told CBS News in Izyum. "But the main thing is that we are coming back and we are on the way to the end."

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Zelenskyy's surprise visit to Izyum would have been unthinkable just last week. Russian forces held the town for more than six months, until it was liberated just three days ago. Even on Wednesday, the visit was bold. The town is just a little more than six miles from the nearest active front line, and occasional shelling can still be heard in the distance.

Izyum's liberation was part of a stunning counteroffensive that has seen the Ukrainian army take back nearly all the territory in the Kharkiv region that Russia captured early in the war. Just days ago, Russia was using the Izyum as a strategic hub to resupply its forces elsewhere on the eastern front lines with food, weapons and other supplies.

A Ukrainian soldier who was part of the lightning counteroffensive told CBS News that he and his fellow troops found themselves running up to 20 miles every day as they recaptured villages along the way to Izyum. He said they didn't expect to liberate the region so quickly. He thought it would take a month or more.

"We take the first line of Russians," the soldier said, and then "they then don't have a second line, third line, and we can go to the front very fast."

A photograph taken on September 11, 2022, shows abandoned munitions in a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from the area. / Credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty
A photograph taken on September 11, 2022, shows abandoned munitions in a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from the area. / Credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty

For the residents who endured more than half a year of hell under Russian occupation, it could not have come soon enough.

Liza Jankina hid with 50 neighbors for four months in an icy basement. She pointed out the bushes in an overgrown patch of ground just outside the building where they were forced to hastily bury a neighbor, who due to a lack of medical care.

With no electricity in the town and supplies running low, humanitarian aid is finally making its way to residents, some of whom hadn't had a decent meal in months.

And still, there's fear among the shell-shocked community that the Russian forces could return.

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