Summer is just starting in Ukraine, and it is looking dangerous.

Kharkiv, the country’s second city, in the high north-east close to Russia, is to all intents and purposes defenceless against air attacks.
Two guided bombs destroyed a DIY superstore and garden centre on Saturday afternoon when it was crowded with shoppers.

As the building burned, sending black smoke across Kharkiv, Andrii Kudenov, manager of one of the other stores in the shopping centre looked on in despair.

“The Russians want to burn everything down. But we won’t give up.”

“A lot of people were in there as it’s warm now and the gardening season has begun. In the shop there was soil, and plants.”

Andrii took out his mobile and scrolled through photos of the superstore before the attack.
“Look what beautiful flowers they had here. And not a single military man, everyone was a civilian.”

Dozens were injured and at least 15 people were confirmed killed, with more bodies left to find

In every war, civilians try to preserve traces of their old lives.

As the garden centre burned, couples walked their dogs. In the magnificent squares in the centre of Kharkiv, cafés were open, ignoring air raid sirens and alerts on mobile apps.

On the steps of the opera house teenage boys practised jumps on their skateboards and girls were recording TikTok dances on their phones.
Inside the opera house, in a deep concrete basement, an orchestra was rehearsing for the music festival that the war has not stopped.

Their stoic composure cannot conceal the fact that Ukraine is in its worst crisis since the first few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion more than two years ago.

The garden centre attack was one of many strikes here in the north east, as well as on the eastern front, and south near Kherson.

Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself depends on others, on decisions taken by its Western allies that are shaping events here in Kharkiv and other cities, and right along more than 1,000km (621 miles) of front line.

May 28, 2024

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