Drones and shelling hit Russia’s Belgorod amid third day of border skirmishes

Drones and Artillery Fire Strike Russia’s Belgorod in Ongoing Border Conflict

In the Belgorod region of Russia, battles have continued for three days. This follows an attack by pro-Ukrainian Russian paramilitary groups earlier in the week. The city of Belgorod experienced severe drone strikes and shelling on Thursday.

Two individuals lost their lives, and several others were injured due to Ukrainian strikes in the area. Among the casualties was a driver whose car was hit by shelling while it was moving, as reported by local officials.

Videos from Belgorod depict scenes of chaos, with people navigating through dense smoke on roads cluttered with burning and overturned vehicles. Additional footage captures buildings damaged by explosions and residents evacuating with their possessions, amidst the backdrop of explosions and distant air raid sirens.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced it had intercepted eight rocket-propelled grenades aimed at Belgorod. Additionally, it reported the successful downing of 11 Ukrainian drones over Belgorod and three over the neighboring Kursk region.

Following these events, Ukraine launched drone strikes targeting at least three major oil refineries inside Russia, right before President Vladimir Putin’s expected re-election. These refineries, located in Ryazan, Kstovo, and Kirishi, are among Russia’s largest, according to a defense source from Ukraine speaking to CNN.

The source described the strikes as part of Ukraine’s strategic plan to weaken Russia’s economic capabilities.

Meanwhile, conflicts persisted in villages within the Belgorod and Kursk regions after pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters initiated a cross-border assault on Tuesday. The Russian Defense Ministry labeled these groups as “terrorist formations” and accused them of attacking the villages of Nekhoteevka and Spodariushino.

The Freedom for Russia Legion, a group of Russian dissidents fighting alongside Ukraine, claimed to have taken complete control of the village of Tyotkino in the Kursk region. Two other factions, the Siberian Battalion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), also took responsibility for the attack.

In a statement released on Thursday, these three pro-Kyiv groups declared their ongoing operations within Russia. They expressed their goal to free Russia from what they call the Kremlin’s terrorist regime, announcing that significant strikes were being launched against Putin’s forces in the Belgorod and Kursk regions at that moment.

An RDK fighter appealed to the residents of Belgorod and Kursk through a Telegram video. He criticized the local leadership for failing to protect or evacuate civilians, despite the ongoing shelling of peaceful Ukrainian towns and villages. The fighter urged immediate evacuation, warning of retaliatory strikes on military facilities in the border regions.

The fighter specified that military targets in the two regions would be attacked “within an hour and a half after this video,” which was posted around 7 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET). The subsequent actions taken were not specified.

Russia’s Defense Ministry later claimed to have inflicted significant casualties on the sabotage groups and destroyed their military equipment in what it described as a “pre-emptive” action by Russian forces.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the claims made by either side.

The full scope of the skirmishes in the border villages remains uncertain, but drone strikes and shelling on Belgorod have notably intensified over the past week.

In an exclusive essay for CNN last month, Ukraine’s then-army chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi argued that drones represent the most effective means for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a static, attritional war.