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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Border towns in western Russia report heavy shelling and rocket fire

By Francesca Ebel Washington Post

Shebekino, a town 4 miles from the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod region, came under intense rocket fire and shelling on Thursday, local officials and residents said – the latest in a series of attacks on Russian soil in recent days.

Amid the reports of heavy cross-border fire, a powerful explosion, reportedly from a drone strike, shook a residential neighborhood on Thursday afternoon in Belgorod city, the regional capital. Reports said two people suffered minor injuries. Videos on social media showed plumes of dark smoke floating up from a block of apartments.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Thursday that at least two people had been wounded in the attacks on Shebekino, which began overnight and appeared to continue throughout the day.

Gladkov blamed the shelling on Ukraine. Kyiv has denied any direct involvement in the attacks on Russia’s territory, including in the western regions and in Moscow, which was hit by drones on Tuesday.

Video of the damage in Shebekino circulating on social media on Thursday showed parts of the town in flames, with cars and buildings on fire, including a large, five-story dormitory. It also showed smoke rising from a factory that processes sapphire.

“Shebekino is under incessant fire,” Gladkov wrote early Thursday morning on his Telegram channel. He accused the Ukrainian military of firing on the center and outskirts of the city using Grad multiple rocket launchers.

In a later post, Gladkov wrote that residents’ lives were “under threat” in both Shebekino and surrounding villages and that authorities were working to evacuate them.

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the situation in Belgorod as “quite alarming.”

Russian media outlets reported that electricity and cellphone networks had stopped working in the town, which had a prewar population of 40,000 people. According to local journalists and residents, many inhabitants have recently left the town in response to the attacks.

In video statements posted to Telegram and published in Russian media, residents described chaotic scenes, with many saying the town was “on fire” and that shelling was ongoing.

Some said that they had received little support from local authorities and that they had been forced to evacuate themselves.

“Today is June 1. Behind me is our city of Shebekino, which is on fire,” said one woman in a video posted on Telegram. The woman did not provide her name but claimed to be a resident of Shebekino who had just fled the town with her children.

“There are still fights going on. … The AFU is attacking the city, there are very few of us left there,” she said, referring to the armed forces of Ukraine. “The previous days, there was practically no response; there were no soldiers in the town. We were left to our own devices. It got to the point that tonight people all fled. Now many remain in the basements; they cannot be evacuated.”

Another resident, who said she was a student from Shebekino, said her family did not have the financial means to leave.

“Shebekino is part of Russia, and we are asking for help. We do not know who will protect us. Who will help us? Why do we have to leave the city on our own?” the woman said, in a video posted to Telegram. “Move the front line and save the Belgorod region and the city of Shebekino.”

A woman who claimed to be the administrator of a Telegram channel called “Whisper of Shebekino,” who also did not provide her name, said the situation in the town was “tense” and that Shebekino remained under fire. Loud booms could be heard in the background.

“We haven’t slept for several nights,” the woman said. “There are destroyed buildings in the city, burned-out cars. People are fleeing the city in private vehicles and organized transport.” She added: “We have no electricity, no water; stores and enterprises do not work. We are all frightened.”

In a video statement posted to Telegram, Belgorod’s deputy governor for housing and communal services, Konstantin Polezhaev, said that as a result of “massive shelling,” energy infrastructure facilities in the town were disabled. “Residential houses were damaged, and significant damage was caused to infrastructure,” Polezhaev said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Volunteer Corps, an anti-Russian, far-right armed formation that has claimed responsibility for multiple incursions into Russia from Ukraine in recent months, said in a video statement that its forces had crossed the border once again and were approaching the “outskirts of Shebekino.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday denied reports that saboteur groups had crossed the border.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Russian families via video link to mark Children’s Day. Putin told the families that he had no doubt Russia would be victorious and that the country was protecting “its land, its people and its values.”

At one point, Putin was asked by a child: Who was more important – Santa Claus or the president?

“Santa Claus, I think, is more important,” Putin replied, “because he is such a character that originates from good deeds.” The Russian leader continued: “We are all sinful people. We need to strive for what is required of us by higher powers, namely, unconditional love for our neighbor, unconditional love for our loved ones.”

Since an influx of attacks deep inside Russian territory over the past week, including a drone strike Tuesday that hit civilian areas in the Russian capital for the first time since the invasion, Putin has tried to project a veneer of calm, amid increasing tensions.