Russia plans new offensive in Ukraine as Zelensky urges Biden and Xi to join peace summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that Moscow's forces were gathering for a new ground offensive in his country's northeast, a day after a Russian missile attack on a hardware hypermarket in the city of Kharkiv killed at least 16 people and injured dozens more. , according to Ukrainian officials.

“Russia is the only source of aggression and constantly seeks to expand the war,” Zelensky said in a speech delivered in English inside the ruins of a publishing house in Kharkiv, destroyed last week by a Russian attack.

“Russia is preparing for offensive actions,” about 60 miles northwest of Kharkiv, he said, adding that Moscow is gathering “another group of troops near our border.” Mr. Zelensky did not provide further details about the potential attack.

Moscow surprised Ukraine on May 10 when its troops poured across the northeastern border, tearing apart Ukrainian defenses and seizing villages near the frontier. This forced the Kiev government to send reinforcements in an attempt to halt the Russian advance.

One target for an assault, based on Zelensky's comments, could be the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine, which has seen frequent cross-border fires but no ground attacks since Russian forces attempted to seize the its main city, also called Sumy, at the same time. the full-scale invasion began in February 2022. They were later forced to retreat after fierce fighting. The Ukrainian military had already warned of another Russian assault on the northeastern border. A spokesman for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, Andriy Demchenko, told Ukrainian television on Sunday that it did not appear that Russian forces gathered near the border were sufficient to mount a major attack.

But even a limited increase in Russian military activity near the border “could have the effect of extending Ukrainian forces along a broader front,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research organization . That would be true even if Russia merely “threatened penetrations” into border areas beyond Kharkiv, the institute said last week.

The May incursion was the most significant in months of fighting, and military experts say a key Russian objective was to expand the length of the battlefield, which already stretches hundreds of miles, and thereby force Ukraine to distribute its troops more sparsely. By doing so, Moscow apparently hoped to extend its existing advantage in the size of its armed forces, experts say.

The war has had its ups and downs since Russian President Vladimir V. Putin launched the invasion, with Ukrainian forces now defending against Russian advances in the eastern Donetsk region, the northeast and the southern Zaporizhzhia region.

One of the immediate victims was Kharkiv, which has seen a sharp escalation in the ferocity of Russian airstrikes this month, forcing many to flee. On Sunday, the death toll from the attack on the hardware superstore rose to 16, with 43 more people injured, according to a social media post by the region's military administration.

Firefighters put out the flames in the hypermarket, local authorities said, and 200 rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack, according to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the region's military administration.

The Ukrainian Police Service released a short video on Sunday showing the inside of the store at the time of the attack. It showed customers calmly browsing through displays of bathroom furniture, including toilets and sinks, while store employees dressed in blue T-shirts stood nearby. Suddenly, the scene is erased by a flash of light. There has been no independent confirmation of the video's authenticity.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the attack was conducted to ensure maximum civilian casualties. “He can't occupy Kharkiv, so try to kill her,” Kuleba wrote on social media, referring to Putin.

The Russian Defense Ministry's Telegram social media channel has made extensive comments on the fighting in recent days, but made no comment on the Kharkiv attack or others reported by Ukrainian officials, in line with its general practice.

Kuleba called on Ukraine's allies in NATO to provide his country with more Patriot missiles and other systems capable of defending itself against missile attacks.

A multibillion-dollar military aid package has been stalled for months in the US Congress, leaving Ukraine short of ammunition and increasingly exposed to Russian missile and drone attacks. The package was finally approved last month, but much of the hardware has yet to reach Ukraine.

In a sign of Kharkiv's vulnerability, Syniehubov reported a second attack on Saturday, which he said hit civilian commercial infrastructure in the city center just hours after the hypermarket attack. According to the regional prosecutor's office, at least 25 people were injured, including a 14-year-old boy hospitalized. No comment from the Russian authorities.

Russia has also conducted attacks outside the usual recent battlefields. Governor Vitaliy Kim, head of the military administration in the Mykolaiv region of southern Ukraine, said the drone explosion damaged a preschool building there, while Ukrainian public television company Suspilne reported explosions in Khmelnytskyi, a central region.

In his speech from Kharkiv, Zelensky appealed to President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend a peace summit on Ukraine in Switzerland next month. Kiev has attempted to rally global support for a framework that would involve the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory and an end to attacks on Ukrainian soil.

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