Anti-Putin Russian volunteer corp ravaged Belgorod, 340,000 residents will be evacuated

A fighter of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) poses on a seized armoured personnel carrier during a presentation for the media in northern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border, on May 24, 2023.

A video filmed in Russia’s Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine appears to show the village of Kozinka ravaged by strikes amid an ongoing incursion by three groups of Russian defectors serving with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Russian authorities said Tuesday that 340,000 residents will be evacuated from the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine because of shelling. In contrast, President Vladimir Putin said an incursion by three militia groups of Russian defectors serving with the Ukrainian Armed Forces had “failed.”

According to the state-run news agency RIA Novosti, “Today we are resettling a large number of villages. Now we are planning to remove about 340,000 residents from Belgorod, Belgorod district, Shebekinsky district, and Grayvoronsky district,” the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said.

The footage was shared on X, formerly Twitter, by user Dmitri from War Translated, an independent project that translates materials about the war. “Kozinka, Belgorod Oblast, [special military operation zone, is not habitable anymore,” he wrote. Newsweek couldn’t independently verify when or where the footage was filmed, and has contacted Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment by email.

The Freedom of Russia Legion, Siberian Battalion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK)—three Ukraine-aligned volunteer military units—launched a cross-border raid into Russia’s southern Belgorod and Kursk regions on March 12, and that operation is still ongoing.

Belgorod is located near the Ukrainian border and is home to several Russian military bases and training grounds. The region has been rocked by explosions and mysterious fires throughout Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Local authorities regularly report unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the area. Fighting has intensified in the region amid the incursion.

The video is filmed from inside a car as it is driven through the village of Kozinka, which the groups claimed to have captured last week. On Sunday, members of the militia groups raised their flags in Kozinka, posting photos on Telegram. The RDK also published a video showing one of its members firing at a Russian armored vehicle in the area.

“Kozinka is f*****. F***, look! It’s gone, the shop! The shop is no more, for f**** sake!” a Russian man behind the camera said, showing the scale of destruction in the area.

An explosion can be heard, and a cloud of smoke can be seen in the vehicle’s side-view mirror.

“Oh f***, that house is gone,” the man said.

The three groups have repeatedly urged residents of Belgorod and Kursk to evacuate. On March 13, they said in a joint statement on Telegram that they were “forced to inflict fire on military positions located in Belgorod” because “every day, dozens of ordinary innocent Ukrainians (mostly women and children) die from shelling from Belgorod.”

The three groups issued a similar warning two days later, saying that “within the next hour, a massive attack will be carried out on military targets in the city of Belgorod.”

On Tuesday, the Freedom of Russia Legion asked residents of Belgorod city to “leave immediately” or “find reliable shelter due to the threat of rocket and artillery fire.”

“We strike at military targets, but due to the placement of enemy military facilities in the residential sector, civilians may suffer! We ask Belgorod residents to evacuate urgently!” the group said.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Tuesday that, at about 10:30 a.m. Moscow time, Ukraine attempted to attack the Belgorod region using an RM-70 Vampire multiple-launch rocket system.

“Duty air defense systems destroyed nine rockets in the air over the Belgorod region,” it said.

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