Missiles, drones and intrusions… Belgorod, the Russian city where kyiv imported the war – L’Express

Missiles drones and intrusions… Belgorod the Russian city where kyiv

It is a Russian city of 335,000 inhabitants, a regular target of Ukrainian responses. Belgorod is located only about thirty kilometers from the border. In recent days, as the Russian presidential election approaches, which will see Vladimir Putin re-elected for a new six-year term this Sunday, March 17, Ukraine has increased military pressure on the Russian border regions of Belgorod and Kursk . These two territories are targeted by a multitude of drone attacks and incursions by military units made up of Russians based in Ukraine, and determined to bring down Vladimir Putin’s regime.

On Saturday, one of these groups, “Legion Freedom of Russia”, called on civilians to evacuate the city of Belgorod, capital of the region of the same name: “You do not have to be the shields Vladimir Putin’s humans.” Another, the Siberian Battalion, claimed this Sunday morning to have entered a Russian hamlet located on the border with Ukraine, Gorkovsky.

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In Belgorod and the region, the conflict regularly causes deaths. A 16-year-old girl was killed this Sunday in a strike, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram, before announcing a few hours later another dead and 11 injured in new air attacks. The day before, he also reported two other casualties in a bombing, while eight rockets were shot down over Belgorod. Previously, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had shot down missiles, rockets and drones over the border regions of Belgorod and Kursk.

These repeated events pushed Vyacheslav Gladkov to announce, on Saturday, the closure for the coming days of shopping centers and schools in the city of Belgorod. “Given the current situation, we have decided that shopping centers will be closed on Sunday and Monday,” he said. Schools will also remain closed Monday and Tuesday in the city, as well as in eight other districts, the regional governor also specified. THE Washington Post also mentions the closure of restaurants in the regional capital. Similar measures were already taken last January.

Missiles, rockets and drones

Friday, as the polling stations for the presidential election opened, the Russian army announced that it had repelled multiple incursions by fighters from Ukraine since Tuesday March 12. “From March 12 to 14, the troops […] foiled all attempts by Ukrainian militants to enter the territory of the Belgorod and Kursk regions of the Russian Federation,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.

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On Thursday, one person was killed and six others injured, according to Russian authorities, in Ukrainian strikes targeting the Belgorod region. The Ukrainian army claimed on Telegram to have shot down 22 explosive drones overnight out of a total of 36 launched by Russia on its neighbor. The Russian Defense Ministry, for its part, assured that it had destroyed 14 Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod and Kursk regions during the night. On Wednesday, the headquarters of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) in Belgorod was targeted by a drone attack launched by Ukrainian forces, reports the Tass agency, citing local authorities.

“Everyone is afraid”

Ukrainian authorities have vowed to bring the conflict to Russian territory. And the Belgorod region, widely used by the Russian army to launch raids on Ukraine, is a prime target. In total, dozens of civilians have been killed by drone and missile strikes launched from Ukraine. On December 30, 2023, the eponymous regional capital was the target of a Ukrainian strike killing 25 people and injuring more than 100, the deadliest against civilians on Russian soil since the launch of Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine in February 2022. These attacks were a real shock for the inhabitants of this city, where illuminated signs indicating first aid instructions are now visible. “In Belgorod, before, there were festivals, parties, but since then people have really seen what war was,” testifies from France Inter Nikita, an exiled journalist from Belgorod.

Residents regularly hear missiles, drones and explosions without knowing where they come from or who is being targeted. City officials routinely say air defenses intercepted all the missiles, but videos of attacks on residential buildings sometimes surface hours later, showing damage and casualties.

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The increasing bombings undermine the Kremlin’s message that the daily lives of Russians are not disrupted by the conflict, and that the conflict does not directly affect the security of Russians. Soldier patrols, cement blocks placed at bus stops to cushion possible explosions, buses that stop at the start of an alert, forcing passengers to get off and walk… As noted Reuters, the war is clearly visible in this Russian city. “The situation remains turbulent, but a peaceful life is nevertheless led,” says at the Washington Post Nikolai Lebedev, who heads the Belgorod civil defense department. For his part, Vyacheslav Gladkov admitted in early January that his region was going through “difficult times”. “Everyone is afraid,” he said.

Tension and paranoia reign in the city, notes the Washington Post. Residents are traumatized after months of conflict and largely convinced by Kremlin propaganda that blames the war on “fascists” and “Nazis” in Ukraine, as well as the United States and other NATO countries. for supplying weapons to Kiev. Instead of weakening Russian morale, the strikes are leading many people in Belgorod to believe that they are the victims and that Russian forces must hit the Ukrainian enemy even harder, notes the American daily. Some residents, however, admit to being unhappy with the situation, but if they blame the authorities, few say it out loud.