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What is life like in Belgorod, a Russian city, on the front line of the invasion of Ukraine

The sound of war is getting louder in Belgorod, a medium-sized Russian city about 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. And explosions are more frequent.

“The bombings woke us up again on Sunday. You never know if they (the Ukrainian army) will shoot if we do,” said Vladimir, a shop owner in the city.

Neighbors like Vladimir were the first witnesses to a Russian military deployment in the region earlier this year, when thousands of troops gathered near Belgorod before the Moscow attack in late February: “When the conflict started, we heard what the missiles were like. Moved to Ukraine, but now we too have been attacked. That’s another voice. “

As the war continues and Russia is unable to take Kiev quickly, authorities in Belgorod and other border towns have reported a series of attacks by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks.

Ukraine has not directly acknowledged responsibility for these attacks, but has called the incidents revenge and “karma” for Russia, almost three months after its invasion.

The alleged attacks by Ukraine, which began on April 1 after two helicopters struck the Belgorod oil depot, added a new element to the war, raising the hitherto unbelievable possibility that part of Moscow’s devastating damage to Ukraine would be inflicted on Russia. The area itself.

“Of course we talk a lot about what is happening. There is tension in the city,” said Anna, a teacher from Belgorod. “Life goes on, but sometimes it is impossible to ignore the situation, as when the city was engulfed in heavy smoke,” he said of the attack on the fuel depot.

This week alone, Belgorod authorities said at least three attacks had taken place. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said last week that a Russian civilian had been killed in an attack on a small town in the region.

In the last few days, Ukrainian forces have regained control of villages north and northeast of Kharkov from Russian troops, forcing them to retreat to the border near Belgorod. This brought some relief to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, just an hour’s drive from Belgorod, which had been under enemy bombardment since the start of the war in February.

And while consensus among military experts remains that Ukraine will not seek to infiltrate Russian territory, its advance has caused inconvenience in Belgorod and throughout Russia.

In a recent meeting with locals, Gladkov had to answer questions from interested voters about what Ukraine’s recent move meant for Belgorod. The governor tried to persuade but acknowledged that parts of the region were “under constant bombardment”.

He also raised the danger level of the city to “yellow”, which is the second highest in the three-tier system. Anna says an increased number of police are being observed across the city.

On the other hand, two fires were reported at the Ministry of Defense facilities in the Belgorod region, as well as damage to a key railway bridge for Russia, leading to speculation that Ukrainian saboteurs may have been operating on Russian territory. Russian authorities have not commented on the incident and it remains unclear what caused the fire.

Nikita Parmenov, a journalist with the independent media outlet Fonar, claims that the lack of information about some of the recent fires has led to “fears and rumors that Ukrainians have infiltrated cities and towns in the region.”

Despite the direct threat from Ukraine, Parmenov says there are no growing signs of patriotism in Belgorod. “Many neighbors have direct ties to Ukraine, they talk to their relatives on the other side of the border. We seem to understand better what is happening than in most regions of Russia,” said a journalist who was in contact with his aunt. From Odessa.

“There is no enthusiasm for a special military operation. In fact, he has broken families, while others prefer not to talk about the conflict in Ukraine with friends and brothers,” he said.

But not only Ukrainian attacks have disrupted life in Russia’s border areas. The war also had a wider effect. Since the start of the invasion, Moscow has shut down 11 airports in central and southern Russia near Ukraine, citing a “difficult situation” around the neighboring country. This closure has complicated the journey for millions of Russians.

Closed airports include airports that serve rest destinations, including some annexed Crimean peninsulas and the Black Sea resort towns of Gelendzhik and Krasnodar.

“I’m used to thinking the summer season would be a disaster,” said the owner of a hotel in Sevastopol, Crimea.

According to a study in the Russian newspaper Russian Economy and Political tion CommersantOn the first weekend of May, when Russians usually travel to the south of the country, the hotel occupancy rate in Crimea was 10-15%.

The peninsula’s tourism sector predicts that up to 70% of hotel rooms will be empty during the summer holidays due to travel difficulties in Crimea and being too close to war. “It will be a difficult summer,” said the owner of a medium-sized hotel in Crimea. “But in war you have to make sacrifices.”

Translated by Emma Reverter.

Source: El Diario





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