Zelensky warns of build-up of Russian troops as Kharkiv attack death toll rises

Ukrainian president asks Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to attend summit in Switzerland

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Sunday that Russia is preparing to intensify its offensive along his country’s northern border, as the death toll rose to 14 in an aerial bomb attack on a shop in the city of Kharkiv.

The bombing of the large construction supplies store on Saturday afternoon also left 43 injured and 16 missing, Kharkiv’s governor Oleh Syniehubov said.

In a video statement from the city, Mr Zelensky said Russia is preparing offensive action 90km northwest of Ukraine’s second largest city.

He did not specify where Russian troops are being assembled, but Ukrainian officials have expressed strong concern about the Sumy region. Both Kharkiv city and Sumy, with about 250,000 people, are within 25km of the Russian border.


Moscow’s troops have in recent weeks captured villages in the Kharkiv area as part of a broad push, and analysts say they may be trying to get within artillery range of the city.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated more than 11,000 people from the region since the start of the offensive on May 10th.

Russian forces are carrying out offensive attacks across the 1,000kmfront line, with pitched battles in the Chasiv Yar direction of the Donetsk region, where “the intensity of the hostilities is quite high”, according to a statement from Ukraine’s general staff.

“The defence forces are taking measures to prevent the advance of the enemy,” the statement said.

Russia launched wide missile and drone attacks on much of Ukraine during the night into Sunday. Ukrainian officials said air defence units intercepted 31 Shahed drones and 12 cruise missiles launched by Russia in the Mykolaiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Zaporizhzhia, Khmelnytskyi, Kirovohrad, Vinnytsia and Chernihiv regions.

In total Russia launched 14 missiles and more than three dozen drones, according to a statement from Ukraine’s air force. It was not clear what damage may have been caused by missiles and drones that were not shot down.

Meanwhile, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, which lies across the border from Ukraine, said four people were injured in Ukrainian attacks during the night.

The Russian defence ministry said seven drones were shot down over the Kursk region and three over Oryol, both of which are to the north of Belgorod.

On Sunday Mr Zelenskiy urged the leaders of the US and China to attend a summit to discuss Ukraine’s peace blueprint as Russia builds up troop formations near Ukraine’s northeast border and steps up air attacks.

“I am appealing to the leaders of the world who are still aside from the global efforts of the global peace summit,” Zelenskiy said from Kharkiv, naming US president Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping specifically.

“We do not want the United Nation Charter to be burnt ... burnt down just like these books,” Zelenskiy said.

Switzerland has scheduled the conference for June 15th-16th on the heels of a meeting of the Group of Seven in Borgo Egnazia, Italy.

Several G-7 leaders plan to join but neither Biden nor US vice-president Kamala Harris are slated to be there, Bloomberg News reported. Biden is scheduled to fly from the G-7 to Los Angeles for a major fundraiser on June 15th featuring Hollywood stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, former president Barack Obama, and late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel.

China, meanwhile, joined forces with Brazil to announce a rival initiative on Friday. They’ve called for an international conference that would bring both Ukraine and Russia to the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t invited to the Swiss meeting as Ukraine wants to agree with allies on steps to put pressure on the Kremlin.

“Ukraine has the world’s largest experience of lies from Russia during negotiations. Lies that in particular were Russian cover-ups for preparing this war,” Zelenskiy said referring to Putin’s constant reiteration he didn’t plan to invade Ukraine in 2022.

Ukraine’s leader has called on the US to allow its donated weapon systems to be used to strike Russian troops on Russian territory – a move that Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to endorse on Friday.

“The time has come for allies to consider whether they should lift some of the restrictions they have imposed on weapons donated to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told The Economist in an interview. – AP, additional reporting by Bloomberg