Pictures on the Facebook page showed Zelensky’s military unit at a ceremony in the main square to raise the Ukrainian flag over the city’s administrative building. Hanna Maliar, Deputy Defense Minister, was also present.
“Earlier, when we looked up, we were always looking for the blue sky. Today, when we look up, we are looking for only one thing – the flag of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a post on the presidential Telegram channel.
“Our yellow and blue flag is already flying in Izyum that has been wiped out. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village. We are moving in only one direction – forward and towards victory.
“I want to thank you for saving our people, our hearts, our children and our future,” Zelensky said, according to a statement posted on the presidency’s website.
“It has been very difficult for you in recent months. Therefore, I ask you to take care of yourselves, because you are the most valuable thing we have,” he said.
“It may be possible to occupy the territory of our state temporarily. But it is certainly impossible to occupy our people, the Ukrainian people,” he said.
There was a minute’s silence at the ceremony to remember those who were lost during the military operations.
Ukrainian forces recaptured Izyum on Saturday, dealing a major strategic blow to Russia’s military offensive in the east.
The city, located near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, was under Russian occupation for more than five months and became an important center of the invading army. Moscow was using Izyum as a staging ground for attacks further south on the Donetsk and Kubyansk region, about 30 miles north of Izyum, as a railroad hub to resupply its forces.
Zelensky told reporters he was “shocked” by the number of “destroyed buildings” and “dead people” left in the wake of the Russian occupation.
“Unfortunately, this is part of our history today. This is part of the modern Russian nation – what they did,” he said.
He also thanked foreign governments for sending investigators and prosecutors to investigate alleged human rights violations by the occupying forces in Ukraine, adding that all occupied areas would eventually return.
“We must send signals to our people who, unfortunately, are still under occupation. And my references to the people of Crimea: We know that these are our people, and it is a terrible tragedy that they have been under occupation for more than eight years. We will go back there. I don’t know Exactly when. But we have plans.”
On Monday, the president said that most of the territory retaken by Ukrainian forces since the beginning of September is concentrated in the northeastern and southern regions of the country.
CNN’s Ivana Kutsova, Tim Lister, Yulia Kisayeva, Denis Labin, Josh Pennington, and Victoria Butenko contributed to this story.