Pro-Kyiv group reports second day of fighting in Russia’s Belgorod
A group of pro-Ukrainian forces said on Friday (2 June) they were fighting Russian troops on the outskirts of a village just inside Russia’s western border, a day after Moscow said it had repelled three cross-border attacks.
The attacks follow a major incursion into Russia’s western Belgorod region on 22-23 May and an increase in cross-border shelling in recent weeks as Ukraine prepares to launch a big push to recapture Russian-occupied land in its east and south.
Cross-border incursions from Ukraine take a stab at Russian defences
A two-day incursion from Ukraine into Russia’s western borderlands could force the Kremlin to divert troops from front lines as Kyiv prepares a major counteroffensive, and deal Moscow a psychological blow, according to military analysts.
“We have active fighting on the outskirts of the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka (in Belgorod region). Unfortunately, there are wounded legionnaires, but freedom is won through blood,” the Freedom of Russia Legion said in a statement.
Reuters was unable to verify the situation in Belgorod region.
Russian fighters from Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps continue their operations, destroying the equipment of the Russian army, which is in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka. pic.twitter.com/CoTZPhTVSw
— Ruslan Trad (@ruslantrad) June 1, 2023
The group describes itself as Russians fighting against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to create a Russia that would be part of the “free world”.
Along with the Russian Volunteer Corps founded by a far-right Russian nationalist, they say they Russian volunteers attacking under their own steam, and not on the orders of Ukraine, which denies involvement.
Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, says the groups are “terrorists” acting as proxies for Kyiv and the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said two people had been killed and two wounded in Ukrainian shelling on Friday.
The Freedom of Russia Legion blamed Russia for the shelling on Telegram, while posting images of what it said was one of its tanks in the Russian village of Novaya Tavolzhanka and soldiers taking cover behind a wall during a gunfight.
Freedom of #Russia Legion published a photo of their tank in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka, #Belgorod region. pic.twitter.com/soFQ5AaQSE
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) June 2, 2023
“Near Tavolzhanka, the enemy destroyed a Renault car with civilians, mistaking it for a car with our sabotage group. At least two civilians were killed, and this is a direct consequence of the lack of professionalism of Putin’s army,” it said on Telegram messaging app.
The cross-border raids aim to stretch Russian defences and force Moscow to divert troops from inside Ukraine to shore up the border, Alexei Baranovsky, a spokesperson for the political wing of the Freedom of Russia Legion, told Reuters.
“One of our tactical aims is to draw Russian troops from other parts of the Ukrainian front,” he said in an interview in Warsaw on Thursday.
“That’s one aim, the other is to show Russians that a different country is possible, that an armed group has appeared that is ready to struggle for freedom. We want people to join us,” he said.
He said the unit was part of Ukraine’s foreign legion which is controlled by the Ukrainian military, but that the chain of command no longer applied to Russian volunteer fighters after they enter Russian territory.
Missile and drone attack
Ukrainian forces in Kyiv said on Friday they shot down 36 Russian missiles and drones in and around the capital overnight, with two people injured by falling debris before authorities lifted air raid alerts across most of the country.
Russia has launched about 20 missile and drone attacks on Kyiv since the beginning of May, a surge in strikes that the government says appears aimed at derailing Ukraine’s preparations for a major counter-offensive.
An Air Force statement said its air defences had shot down 15 cruise missiles and 21 drones. It said a wave of drones had been launched late on Thursday, followed by a volley of cruise missiles as people slept at around 0300 local time.
“The occupiers are not stopping their attempts to terrorise the Ukrainian capital with strike drones and missiles,” it said.
The capital’s military authorities, writing on Telegram, praised the city’s air defences and said there were no reports of damage or casualties.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, wrote on Telegram that there had been no calls for rescue services.
In the region outside Kyiv, authorities said two people were injured as a result of falling debris, including a child.
“In addition, the falling debris damaged five private houses,” the state administration said on the Telegram messaging service.
Ukraine says it destroys the majority of the missiles and drones Russian forces use in attacks, but a nine-year-old girl was among three people killed in a missile strike on Kyiv on Thursday after the shelter they rushed to failed to open.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said if local officials were unable to provide protection, they could be prosecuted.
His comments appeared aimed at Kyiv city authorities and mayor Klitschko, with whom he has periodically clashed during the war.
Russian officials reported more cross-border shelling from Ukraine on Friday and said two long-range drones had attacked fuel and energy infrastructure further north in Russia but that no fires were reported there and there were no reports of injuries.