As a CNN team on the ground surveyed the city of Izium, the signs of Ukrainian victory after months of Russian occupation are clear.
Burned-out tanks and trucks emblazoned with Russia’s signature “Z” symbol were at the side of the road, gutted and red with new rust. A collapsed bridge was covered in signs warning of landmines. Further along, the wreckage of a car was left alongside a destroyed petrol station surrounded by the debris of shelling.
Izium has now been “liberated,” along with almost the whole of Kharkiv region, a Ukrainian military source told CNN. The city is a huge strategic loss for the Russian military, which used it as a key base and resupply route for its forces in eastern Ukraine, and shows the speed and scale of Ukraine’s lightning-fast counteroffensive in the northeast.
Work is still ongoing to make the city center completely safe. The Ukrainians are seeking to capture a few Russian soldiers still in hiding, and anyone who worked with them during the occupation. The city also remains in a complete information blackout, with no phone or data signal — a tactic used by the Russians across the occupied territories.
From what the CNN team witnessed, local people are relieved to see their city back in Ukrainian hands.
Although the streets of Izium were largely quiet, residents would occasionally venture out of their homes and wave at CNN’s vehicles or at the passing military trucks, and shake hands with any Ukrainian soldiers they came across.
But at the same time, fear of the Russians still grips the city. Most of the residents CNN approached were too scared to speak freely about what had happened there in recent months.
One couple in their 50s agreed to talk, using only their first names. They have been celebrating the Ukrainian victory over the city, a resident named Valeriy said, calling it a “balm for the soul.”
“We prayed to God to be liberated without a fight and without blood. And so it happened,” he said.
The distant sound of shelling is a constant reminder that despite the impressive gains in this counteroffensive, the war is not yet won — and many parts of Ukraine are still within range of Russia’s arsenal of heavy weapons.
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