For Russians near Ukraine border, conflict feels very close to home

  • World
  • Friday, 09 Jun 2023

Residents of the Shebekinsky district of Russia's Belgorod region, who were evacuated following recent attacks on settlements near the Russia-Ukraine border in the course of a military conflict, visit a humanitarian aid distribution centre in Belgorod, Russia, June 8, 2023. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

RAZUMNOYE, Russia (Reuters) - Irina Markevich used to sleep in summer with her windows and balcony open at night. Nowadays she shuts them before going to bed in order to block out the sound of explosions.

The blasts - some distant, some uncomfortably close - have become a daily reality for Markevich and her neighbours in the Russian town of Razumnoye, a 35-minute drive from the border with Ukraine. So too has the occasional boom of Russian air defences directed against incoming missiles or drones.

Locals can no longer ignore the fact that Russia's own territory has become vulnerable since it launched its "special military operation" against Ukraine 15 months ago - even if they are reluctant to discuss the reasons why.

"You need to ask the ministry of defence, don't ask me about that. They have to protect us. They probably know better than us simple people," said Markevich, 61.

Her neighbour Natalia Cherkashina, 65, said that what once seemed like a faraway conflict was now very close to home.

"A year ago, we lived like you live now (in Moscow)," she told visiting Reuters reporters on Thursday.

"You don't understand it, and we didn't understand it then either. There's a war going on somewhere, our boys are fighting, we know, they're being drafted and leaving. But we didn't feel it."

It was only when nearby places started to come under fire, she said, reeling off the names of villages in the region, that the reality sank in.

"That was the moment we realised. Before, it was going on somewhere far away and it involved us no more than anybody else."

In the building opposite, 67-year-old Viktor Ignatyev was surveying broken glass on his neighbour's balcony from falling debris overnight.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the surrounding Belgorod region, said two apartment balconies and a power line in Razumnoye had been damaged after Russian air defences fired on incoming aerial targets overnight. No one was injured, he said.

Reuters could not verify details of the incident, one of many dozens reported by regional authorities on a daily basis. Ukraine does not comment on alleged cross-border attacks.

Thousands of Russians living near the Ukrainian border have moved to nearby Belgorod in the wake of a major cross-border incursion last month by two militia groups made up of Russians fighting on the side of Ukraine.

Asked if she too had thought of leaving, Cherkashina said she had nowhere to go.

"What are we supposed to do, where are we supposed to run to? Our chidren and grandchildren are here. We have lived all our lives here, worked and saved up a bit, how can I leave and abandon it?" she asked.

"We have a very beautiful area, it was quiet, we had nightingales singing in the evening, the air was lovely, but now what can you do? If they stopped all this on the borders, we could live like we did before."

(Reporting by Reuters, writing by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Andrew Heavens)

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