Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday promised "victory" on a visit to the strategic city of Izyum that was recently recaptured from Russia by Kyiv's army in a lightning counter-offensive.
The visit comes at a decisive moment in Russia's six-month invasion, with Ukraine routing Moscow's forces from swathes of the east and seriously undermining the Kremlin's ambitions to capture the entire Donbas region of Ukraine.
"Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in deoccupied Izyum. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village," Zelensky said in a statement on social media.
"We are moving in only one direction -- forward and towards victory."
Pictures distributed by his office showed the Ukrainian leader wearing dark-green and flanked by guards as he took selfies with soldiers and thanked troops at a flag-rising ceremony.
Ukraine has claimed sweeping successes in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia in recent days and also says it has clawed back territory along a southern front near the Kherson region on the Black Sea.
Zelensky said Wednesday that Russia's occupation of Crimea -- annexed by Russia in 2014 -- was a "tragedy" and promised that his forces would eventually recapture the peninsula.
Kyiv says that since the beginning of September its forces have retaken hundreds of villages, towns and cities that were captured by Russian forces that invaded Ukraine on February 24.
'They killed my son'
In the recaptured eastern Ukrainian village of Bogorodychne, 58-year-old Mykola told AFP he had "barely survived" the Russian occupation during which his brother was killed.
"How can I describe it in words? It was difficult. I was afraid," he said.
Wiping tears from her eyes with a veil, Mykola's mother Nina said: "I cry every day. They killed my son."
Moscow said its forces were hitting back on areas recaptured in Kharkiv with "massive strikes," claiming -- without providing evidence -- to have inflicted losses on Ukrainian military hardware and servicemen.
In a battlefield update on Wednesday, Russia also claimed to have captured dozens of Ukrainian servicemen in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The Kremlin, which has made little mention of the setbacks in recent days vowed to continue fighting, claiming that the percieved threat Kyiv posed to Russia remains.
"The leadership of this country must take actions that eliminate threats to the Russian Federation" President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
The Ukrainian official in charge of the eastern Donetsk region, which has been partially controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014, said Russian forces had attacked the entire front line region over the past 24 hours.
'Life and death'
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Donetsk governor, said one civilian had been killed and again urged all others to leave, describing the order as a "matter of life and death."
Military observers have credited the success of Ukraine's push back into the east on Western-supplied arms, particularly long-range precision artillery and also training of Ukrainian forces by Western allies.
The Ukrainian military announced on social media Wednesday that some 5,000 Ukrainian military had been trained as part of a joint program with the United Kingdom.
Western countries have also hit back against Russia with waves of economic penalties.
EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said the successive waves of EU sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine would remain and that Europeans must keep their resolve against Moscow.
Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska attended the gathering in Strasbourg, receiving a standing ovation from lawmakers.
She also told MEPs that she would travel Wednesday to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
© 2022 AFP