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Ukraine war

Russia still trying to ‘clear out’ border region attacked by ‘Ukrainian armed groups’

Russia still trying to ‘clear out’ border region attacked by ‘Ukrainian armed groups’
A handout picture made available by the State Emergency Service (SES) of Ukraine shows the aftermath of a shelling on an Emergency Service point in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine, 22 May 2023, amid the Russian invasion. One rescuer was injured and more than 20 units of State Emergency Service equipment were destroyed as a result of a night Russian attack in the city of Dnipro, the Head of State Emergency Service Serhiy Kruk reported on 22 May. EPA-EFE/STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE HANDOUT

May 23 (Reuters) - Russian security forces are conducting a counter-terrorism operation in a region bordering Ukraine for a second day to counter an incursion from what Russia calls "Ukrainian armed groups", officials said on Tuesday.

In what appeared to be one of the biggest border penetrations from Ukraine since the war began 15 months ago, two purported anti-Kremlin armed groups employing Russians based abroad said they were responsible for the continuing attack in Russia’s Belgorod region.

Reuters was not able to immediately verify their assertions.

Kyiv has said it is watching the situation closely but “has nothing to do with it,” the same stance it adopted in March when one of the two groups – which Moscow alleged was a group of far-right Russian extremists managed by Ukrainian intelligence agencies – mounted an incursion into another border region.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, said on Tuesday that the Russian army and other security forces were still conducting what he called a counter-terrorism operation.

“The clearing out of the area by the Ministry of Defence in conjunction with the security forces is continuing,” Gladkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

“Do not yet return to your homes,” he told local residents who had been evacuated on Monday.

He said one elderly lady had died while being evacuated and two people were being treated in hospital for various injuries, but that no civilians had been killed in the clashes.

“We are waiting for the conclusion of the counter-terrorism operation,” he said.

He also said Russian air-defence forces had shot down drones over the region.

The two groups that have claimed responsibility for the incursion are the Freedom of Russia Legion – a Ukraine-based Russian militia led by Russian opposition figure Ilya Ponomarev that says it is working inside Russia for Putin’s overthrow – and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC).

The RVC, which claimed responsibility for the March incursion, was founded last August by Ukraine-based Russian nationalist Denis Kapustin, and announced on May 17 that it was joining forces with the Freedom of Russia Legion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said one of the reasons Russia was conducting what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine was to ensure that such incidents could not be repeated.

“This once again confirms that Ukrainian militants are continuing their activities against our country. This requires a great deal of effort from us, and these efforts are continuing.”

Asked about reports that the attackers were ethnic Russians rather than ethnic Ukrainians, he said:

“They are Ukrainian fighters from Ukraine. There are many ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. But they are still Ukrainian militants.”

Russian investigators said they had opened a terrorism case over the attack.

They said the raiders had opened fire with mortars and artillery on residential and administrative buildings and civil infrastructure.

By Andrew Osborn

(Reporting by Reuters reporters and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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