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Death toll rises from Russian attacks on Kharkiv shopping area

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At least 16 people were killed, and scores injured in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv from a spate of Russian bomb attacks Saturday while several people were still listed as missing, regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said on the Telegram messaging app Sunday.

The attack sparked a massive fire at a Kharkiv hardware store when the bombs struck, making it difficult for rescue teams to identify most of the burned bodies. Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Saturday that about 120 people were in the store when the bombs struck.

“The attack targeted the shopping center, where there were many people — this is clearly terrorism,” Terekhov said.

So far, only six of the dead have been identified, including a 12-year-old girl who was visiting the city, according to local authorities. Police were asking relatives to provide DNA samples to help identify bodies in the ruined store in the northeastern outskirts of the city.

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The body of a person killed in a Russian bomb attack, lies covered on the ground at the site of a household item shopping mall which was hit in the Russian air strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 25, 2024.
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The body of a person killed in a Russian bomb attack, lies covered on the ground at the site of a household item shopping mall which was hit in the Russian air strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 25, 2024.

A video posted by police showed staff and shoppers in the store just before the deadly strike followed by a massive explosion and fire.

“It took 16 hellish hours to tame the flames,” Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said on Telegram.

In a video showing him standing in front of a charred printing house in Kharkiv that was hit by Russian bombs, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday to attend his peace summit in Switzerland next month as Ukraine struggles to stave off unrelenting attacks by Russia in its 27-month-old invasion.

Responding to Zelenskyy’s video appeal, a U.S. official said Sunday that the United States will participate in the peace summit but declined to say who or at what level.

Kyiv hopes that the summit will add international pressure on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders; Moscow considers this a non-starter.

Burnt books are seen in a damaged workshop of Ukraine's largest printing house ruined in Thursday deadly Russian missile attack that killed seven civilians in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 24, 2024.

Burnt books are seen in a damaged workshop of Ukraine’s largest printing house ruined in Thursday deadly Russian missile attack that killed seven civilians in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 24, 2024.

Last week, Russian sources told Reuters that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready to end the war in Ukraine with a negotiated cease-fire that recognizes the current battlefield lines.

Russia has said that it sees no point to the summit since Moscow will not participate. Zelenskyy said Sunday that more than 80 countries would attend the conference.

Zelenskyy also warned that Moscow was gathering troops for new “offensive actions” farther northwest of Kharkiv along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“Right now, these days, we are defending ourselves 60 kilometers northeast from this place from yet another attempt of the Russian assault. Russia is preparing for offensive actions also 90 kilometers northwest from here – they gather another group of troops near our border. … The one who does all this doesn’t want peace,” he said.

People take cover, after the announcement of a Russian missile attack towards Kharkiv, at the site of a household item shopping mall which was hit by a Russian air strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 25, 2024.

People take cover, after the announcement of a Russian missile attack towards Kharkiv, at the site of a household item shopping mall which was hit by a Russian air strike in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 25, 2024.

Russian forces said they had taken over the village of Berestove in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, according to the Russian state news agency TASS, citing Russia’s defense ministry Sunday.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.

In his nightly video address Saturday, Zelenskyy urged Ukraine’s Western allies to send more air defense systems to help keep the country’s cities safe.

“When we tell world leaders that Ukraine needs sufficient air defenses, when we say we need real decisive measures to enable us to protect our people, so that Russian terrorists cannot even approach our border, we are talking about not allowing strikes like this to happen,” Zelenskyy said.

Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, but thousands have been killed and injured during its 27-month war on Ukraine.

Ukrainian shelling on the Belgorod region, about 10 kilometers from the border, killed three people Saturday, Belgorod region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

“Ukrainian armed forces fired on the settlement of Oktyabrsky from a rocket launcher. To my great sorrow, two people were killed: a man and a woman had numerous shrapnel wounds incompatible with life,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram.

The governor said that at least 10 others, including an 8-year-old boy, were injured in the attack that also damaged houses in the area.

Gladkov said air defense units had intercepted 15 airborne targets.

Biden reiterates support for Ukraine

President Joe Biden reiterated Saturday that the United States is “standing strong with Ukraine.” During his address Saturday in New York to the graduating class of the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Biden praised U.S. leadership in the world.

Biden described Putin as “a brutal tyrant,” who was “certain that NATO would fracture” after Moscow invaded its eastern European neighbor in February 2022.

“Instead, the greatest defense alliance in the history of the world is stronger than ever,” said the U.S. president.

The United States will provide a new $275 million military aid package for Ukraine to help it repel Russia’s assault on Kharkiv, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday.

The new package includes ammunition for HIMARS, (rocket launchers), 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds, missiles, anti-armor systems and precision aerial munitions, the State Department said.

“Assistance from previous packages has already made it to the front lines, and we will move this new assistance as quickly as possible so the Ukrainian military can use it to defend their territory and protect the Ukrainian people,” the statement said.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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