Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy watched as his country’s flag was hoisted in Izium, a city recently recaptured from the retreating Russians.
They left the war-scarred city last week after a lightning Ukrainian counteroffensive saw Kyiv reclaim large parts of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
Zelenskyy, with his hand on his heart, looked on and sang the national anthem as the flag was raised in front of a burned-out city hall building.
“The view is very shocking but it is not shocking for me," Zelenskyy told the press. "Because we began to see the same pictures from Bucha, from the first de-occupied territories … the same destroyed buildings, killed people.”
Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, near Kyiv, early on in the war. The city came to global attention after the bodies of civilians -- many showing signs of torture -- were found dumped in the streets.
Prosecutors said they have found six bodies with traces of torture in recently retaken villages in the Kharkiv region.
“We have a terrible picture of what the occupiers did. ... such cities as Balakliia, Izium are standing in the same row as Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin,” said Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, listing the names of places where the Ukrainians have alleged Russian forces committed atrocities.
"Earlier, when we looked up, we always looked for the blue sky," Zelenskyy added on social media. "Today, when we look up, we are looking for only one thing - the flag of Ukraine. Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in the de-occupied Izium. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village."
On the northern outskirts of Izium, the remains of Russian tanks and vehicles lay shattered along the road.
Zelenskyy said that as Ukrainian soldiers retook villages, "the life comes back.”
'Dozens of tanks left behind'
The counteroffensive has also left more weapons in Ukrainian hands.
Russian forces likely left behind dozens of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other heavy weaponry as they fled Ukraine’s advance in the east of the country, a Ukrainian think tank said Wednesday.
The Center for Defense Strategies said one single Russian unit that was around Izium left behind more than three dozen T-80 tanks and about as many infantry fighting vehicles known by the acronym BMP. Another unit left behind 47 tanks and 27 armoured vehicles.
It said Russian forces tried to destroy some of the abandoned vehicles through artillery strikes as they fell back. Typically, armed forces destroy equipment left behind so their opponent can’t use it.
However, the chaos of the Russian withdrawal apparently saw them leave untouched ammunition and weapons behind.
Russian shelling continues
In other areas, Russia continued its attacks, causing the death toll to keep rising in a war that has dragged on for nearly seven months.
Russian shelling of seven Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours killed at least seven civilians and wounded 22 more, Ukraine’s presidential office reported on Wednesday morning.
Two people were killed and three wounded after Russia attacked Mykolaiv with S-300 missiles overnight, said regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim. Settlements near the front line in Mykolaiv region remain under constant fire.
The Nikopol area, which is across a river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled three times during the night, but no injuries were immediately reported, said regional Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko. Nikopol city itself was shelled two times and left almost 3,000 families without electricity. Reznichenko said the electricity has been partially restored.
In the Luhansk region, where some of the Russian troops went after retreating from the Kharkiv region, mobile internet has been shut down, according to the region’s governor Serhiy Haidai, and intense shelling of Ukrainian forces continues.
The fighting continued in the neighbouring Donetsk region, where shelling killed five civilians and wounded 16 more. Together, Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas.
“Every night in Donbas is restless. The civilians should leave the region. It’s a matter of life and death,” Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.