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Ukraine war: Inside the recaptured city of Izyum

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By Orla Guerin

BBC News, Izyum, Ukraine

Captured Russian tanks on the way to Izyum

Image caption,

Ukrainian soldiers planted a Ukrainian flag on a captured Russian tank

On Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky raised the Ukrainian flag in the recently-liberated city of Izyum. The BBC visited soon afterwards to find a city cut off from power and water, but relieved at the arrival of Ukrainian troops.

The closer you get to Izyum, the more evidence there is of Russia’s rapid retreat.

Ukrainian soldiers are grouped by the roadside near the city, inspecting the spoils of war with broad smiles.

There are two abandoned Russian tanks – the Ukrainian flag already planted on one of them. Troops hug in celebration as they try to use one tank to tow the other out of a ditch.

Just inside the city another abandoned tank sits in the middle of the road – like a monument to Russia’s defeat. A local man poses in front of it for a selfie, giving the tank a thumbs down.

Two women emerge from a minivan with a handful of small bags, including some groceries. Larissa, 61, and her friend Victoria, are returning to the city for the first time.

Image caption,

People had been huddled in the centre of the building to keep warm when an airstrike hit

Larissa says they left at the beginning of the war and are happy to be back. But the situation is complicated, as her home in the city centre was damaged. After speaking to us they set off on foot to stay with friends.

Touring the city, we see many shelled and blackened buildings. Across the road from the damaged city council building, a few dozen people stand in a quiet queue in the afternoon rain waiting for aid, including jars of pickles, dried goods and bottled water.

The city is without running water, electricity or heat.

The dead are still being counted here but local officials saw 47 people – children among them – killed in an airstrike on a five-story block of flats back in March. The attack left a gaping hole in the middle of the building.

At the building today, we have a clear view into some of the apartments. A TV sits on a table in a top-floor flat. A few floors below, clothes still hang neatly in the wardrobe, as if their owner might wear them again. Three smiling women stare out of a photograph in a small album lying in the rubble.

Image caption,

A Russian flag left in a bin in Izyum

Tatiana, 69, who lived in the building for 22 years, points out her singed balcony on the second floor.

She says the attack happened in the morning. She wasn’t there because she had gone to the shelter.

Neighbours who had taken shelter in the apartment block grouped together in the centre of the building for warmth, she says. The airstrike hit the centre of the building.

Outside a city administration building – which was used by the Russians as their command centre – a Russian sign still hangs over the door, but a charred Russian flag has been thrown in the bin.

Inside boxes of files are scattered around in offices. At a nearby police station – where the Russians detained people in the cells – we find piles of Ukrainian passports. Local police say they were confiscated by the Russians during the months of occupation.

Image caption,

Tatiana, outside the building where she lived for 22 years

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