Fighting continues in southern Russia after armed groups launched fresh attacks across the border from Ukraine, where Moscow said it targeted “terrorists” with artillery fire.
Clashes have broken out again on his side of the border, the governor of the besieged Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Sunday, acknowledging for the first time that pro-Ukrainian forces had taken Russian prisoners of war during the incursions.
He said he was ready to hold talks to get “our men” back and told armed groups he would meet them in return.
“A sabotage group has arrived. There is a fight [the] Novaya Tavolganka [border village]Gladkov said. “I hope they are all destroyed.”
The Pro-Kev Russian Volunteer Corps and the Russian Freedom Corps had earlier invited the Governor of Belgorod to meet the fighters and retrieve the captured soldiers.
“The only thing that prevents me from negotiating with them is our comrades who are in their hands, they may already be dead,” Gladkov said.
Ukraine recently bombed Russian settlements on the border, forcing thousands of people to flee to the Belgorod regional center.
The Russian military later claimed to have repelled a “sabotage group of Ukrainian terrorists” seeking to cross the border near the settlement.
The enemy is hit by artillery fire. He added in a statement that the enemy dispersed and withdrew.
Gladkov earlier asked residents of the Chepkino border area to leave their homes because of the shelling.
Send to the slaughterhouse
The fighting around Novaya Tavolganka follows last month’s dramatic armed incursion from Ukraine that forced the Russian military to use artillery and airstrikes on home soil. The anti-Kremlin nationalists claimed the border was violated.
Earlier, nationalist groups released a video addressing the governor. He claimed to show two “captives” whom he described as “simple soldiers whom your orders have sent to this war”. Apparently one of them was injured and was in a hospital bed.
And in a video broadcast by the Freedom of Russia Telegram channel, a man who introduced himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand over the soldiers in exchange for a meeting with Governor Gladkov.
A statement released along with the video read: “Today until 5 p.m. you have the opportunity to communicate without weapons and bring home two Russian citizens, ordinary soldiers sent to slaughter by you and your political leaders.”
Three hours later, Gladkov appeared in a video message in which he agreed to meet with the group if the soldiers were still alive.
Most likely they killed them, though it’s hard to say. But if they are alive, then from 5 to 6 pm – Shchebekino checkpoint. “I guarantee security,” said Gladkov.
The future of Russia
Ukraine has long denied responsibility for the attacks on Russian soil, but its presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Sunday that the situation in the border regions “should be seen as Russia’s future”.
Gladkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had continued to bomb his area overnight after killing two people the night before and evacuating hundreds of children far from the border.
The attacks on the Belgorod region come as Kiev says it is preparing a major counterattack against Russian forces.
In a video posted on Sunday, the Ukrainian military appeared to call on soldiers to remain calm about the plans and said there would be no announcement of the start of the long-awaited counter-offensive.