Zelensky ‘shocked’ by destruction in Izium, newly liberated city after Russian occupation

Photos on the Facebook page of an army unit showed Zelensky at a ceremony to raise the Ukrainian flag over the city’s administration building in the main square. Malian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna was also present.

“Before, when we looked up, we always looked for the blue sky. Today, when we look up, we are looking for only one thing: the flag of Ukraine,” Zelensky said on the presidential Telegram channel.

“Our blue-yellow flag is flying in Izium, which is already occupied. And it will be like that in all cities and towns of Ukraine. We are going in one direction: forward and to victory.

“I want to thank you for saving our people, our hearts, our children and our future,” Zelensky said, according to a statement posted on the presidential website.

“The last few months have been extremely difficult for you. That’s why I ask you to take care of you, because you are the most valuable asset we have,” he said.

“It may be possible to temporarily occupy the territories of our state. But it is certainly impossible to occupy our people, the people of Ukraine,” he said.

There was a minute’s silence during the ceremony to remember those lost in military operations.

Ukrainian forces regained control of Izium on Saturday, dealing a major strategic blow to Russia’s military offensive in the east.

The city, located near the border between Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, was under Russian occupation for more than five months and became an important hub for the invading military. Moscow was using Izium in the Donetsk region and Kupyansk, about 30 kilometers north of Izium, as a launch pad for attacks to the south, as a rail hub to supply its forces.

Zelensky told reporters he was “surprised” by the number of “destroyed buildings” and “dead people” left behind by the Russian occupation.

“Unfortunately, this is part of our history today. And this is part of the modern Russian nation, what they did,” he said.

He also thanked foreign governments for sending investigators and prosecutors to investigate alleged human rights violations by the occupying forces in Ukraine, adding that all occupied areas would eventually be returned.

“Unfortunately, we should send signals to our people who are still under occupation. And my signal to the people of Crimea: we know that these are our people, and it is a terrible tragedy that they have been occupied for more than eight years. We will go back there. I don’t know exactly when. But we have plans ».

In a sign that Kyiv’s ongoing military offensive is working, Zelensky said on Tuesday that 8,000 square kilometers (3,088 square miles) of territory had been liberated by Ukrainian forces this month, with roughly half of the area undergoing “stabilization” measures.

On Monday, the president said that most of the territory retaken by Ukrainian forces since the beginning of September was concentrated in the northeastern and southern regions of the country.

CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva, Denis Lapin, Josh Pennington and Victoria Butenko contributed to this story.