Zelenskyy’s visit to Izium highlights failure of Russia’s campaign in northeast
By Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, standing in a cold drizzle amid wreckage left by the fleeing Russian army, looked to the sky Wednesday where the national flag had just been raised in the main square of the reclaimed city of Izium in northeastern Ukraine.
“Today, when we look up, we are looking for only one thing — the flag of Ukraine,” he said to soldiers assembled before him in front of the city’s bombed-out municipal building. “Our blue and yellow flag is already flying in the deoccupied Izium. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village.”
Zelenskyy’s visit to aa city that less than a week ago was under Russian control was a tangible sign of Russia’s humiliating and chaotic retreat from the northeast. In recent days, Ukrainian forces have taken back an area that is home to 150,000 people in 300 towns and cities, where many residents described months of brutality under occupation.
It also underscored the steep challenges facing the Kremlin as it struggles to meet even its scaled-back ambition of seizing all of the eastern Donbas region.
Russian setbacks over the past week have been significant, with more than 100 tanks, dozens of armored fighting vehicles and vast amounts of military ammunition and equipment lost, according to the military analysis site Oryx.
Scores of Russian soldiers were taken prisoner as the Ukrainians advanced and some of Moscow’s troops fled over the border back into Russia, according to the Pentagon.
Izium is just 9 miles from the front line, and Zelenskyy’s visit showed his confidence in the nation’s military to ensure his safety. During his address to the troops, an explosion echoed in the distance as soldiers blew up a Russian mine left on the deserted streets. There was destruction across the city, which for more than six months served as a base of operations for Russia’s eastern campaign.
Only around 10,000 of the 40,000 people who once lived in Izium remain. One of the first things that Russian forces did when they took over towns across the northeast was to cut access to internet and cell service, leaving people without reliable information. Residents are now revealing details of the cruelty and confusion of the occupation.
Serhii Bolvinov, the head of the investigative department of the regional police force, said that Russian forces in one town had set up a “torture chamber” in the basement of the police precinct.
Residents in other towns and cities in the Kharkiv region have described how Russian forces would search for people who might have relatives in the military, or grab people off the street for no apparent reason.
Valeriy Marchenko, the mayor of Izium, said in an interview that one of the first orders of business would be to get basic infrastructure working again as winter approached.
“The pipelines got frozen and tore apart back in February,” he said. “Since then nothing has been made to repair them. I doubt whether we would be able to restore the heating system before winter.”