Zelenskiy calls on world leaders to attend Ukraine ‘peace summit’ after deadly Kharkiv strike

<span>Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy stands inside a destroyed printworks during his appeal to Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.</span><span>Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters</span>
Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy stands inside a destroyed printworks during his appeal to Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has released a desperate video plea calling on world leaders to attend a “peace summit” next month in Switzerland after a deadly Russian attack on a DIY hypermarket in Kharkiv on Saturday killed at least 16people and injured dozens more.

Zelenskiy appealed in particular to the US president, Joe Biden, and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to attend the summit, which is due to start on 15 June. “Please, show your leadership in advancing the peace – the real peace and not just a pause between the strikes,” said Zelenskiy in English.

Biden has not yet confirmed his attendance and it is not known whether China will attend – “negotiations are ongoing” over Beijing’s participation, Zelenskiy’s aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview last week.

Saturday’s strike came at the end of a week in which daily Russian missile and air strikes terrorised Ukraine’s second city, with hits on a printing house, numerous residential areas and a central park, among other targets. In most cases, there were no obvious military targets nearby.

The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, said about 120 people had been in the hardware store on Saturday afternoon. “The attack targeted the shopping centre, where there were many people. This is clearly terrorism,” he said.


Prosecutors said at least 16 people had died, of whom 10 had not yet been identified, and 43 injured. More than 10 are still missing after the strike. A separate missile strike early in the evening hit a residential building in the centre of the city, injuring 18 people, according to the regional governor.

In recent weeks, Russia has been working to make life a misery for Kharkiv, a city 20 miles from the border with Ukraine, and which had a pre-war population of over a million. Although life in the city goes on, deadly strikes have become a daily feature of life.

Because of the proximity of the city to the border, Russian fighter jets can launch glide bombs into the city centre from inside Russia. Ukrainian officials say improved air defence systems and F-16 fighter jets are vital components in defending the city. The Kharkiv region has also been the focus of a new Russian offensive over the last two weeks, centred on the town of Vovchansk, which has caused thousands of residents to flee their homes.

Russia has claimed its attacks on Kharkiv region are aimed at creating a “buffer zone” to prevent Ukrainian forces from launching strikes against Russian border regions.

The strike on Saturday targeted a popular suburban shopping complex. Andriy Kudinov, its director, told local media the store had been packed with shoppers buying items for their summer cottages.

Witnesses described panicked scenes at the supermarket. “I was at my workplace. I heard the first hit and … with my colleague, we fell to the ground. There was the second hit and we were covered with debris. Then we started to crawl to the higher ground,” Dmytro Syrotenko, 26, told Reuters, speaking with a large cut on his face.

The strike sparked a fire that sent large clouds of dark smoke billowing above the shopping centre. Rescue work is dangerous in these conditions, and repeat strikes targeting first responders have been a common feature of recent Russian attacks.

Defence minister Rustem Umerov said over the weekend that Russia had launched nearly 10,000 guided air bombs against Ukraine since the beginning of the year. “Our country needs more modern air defence systems and aviation. We talk about it with our allies every day and at every opportunity,” he wrote on Facebook.

Zelenskiy on Sunday said the Kharkiv attack was further proof that Russia is not interested in peace. “We all know who are we dealing with. Russia is run by men who want to make it a norm – burning lives, destroying cities and villages, dividing people and erasing national borders through war. There is no nation that can stop such war alone,” he said.

Zelenskiy said more than 80 countries had already confirmed their attendance at the Swiss summit. Russia is not invited, and has rubbished the event as pointless. The aim appears to be not to devise a workable peace formula, but to put together a large coalition of countries to call on Moscow to end the war, particularly targeting many global south countries who have remained neutral to this point.

Podolyak, a key Zelenskiy aide, said the Ukrainian president had been spending time calling numerous leaders of global south countries in an effort to persuade them to attend the summit, with particular focus on Africa, Latin America and the Pacific region.

“Russians are trying everything to discredit the idea and to offer incentives for not attending,” said Podolyak, hinting at the diplomatic battle over the summit.

China, which has tacitly backed Russia in the conflict, is thought unlikely to attend, though Ukrainian diplomats are trying hard to persuade Beijing to take part in some way. China has outlined its own peace plan, which Ukrainian officials say is unworkable.

“The Chinese formula is to either force the capitulation of Ukraine, or to freeze the conflict on Russia’s terms,” said Podolyak. “China is the key country [for us], because as soon as you change its position from neutral and disinterested to neutral but fair, then pressure on Russia will start to rise,” he added.

In a report published on Friday, Reuters cited unidentified sources in Moscow as claiming that Vladimir Putin is looking for a ceasefire deal. “Putin can fight for as long as it takes, but Putin is also ready for a ceasefire – to freeze the war,” said one of the sources.

Ukrainian and many western officials have reacted sceptically to such claims, noting that without real security guarantees for Ukraine, any attempt to freeze the conflict would be meaningless.