About 2,500 people have been evacuated in Russia’s Belgorod region after days of Ukrainian shelling and raids, according to the local governor.
“Conditions are quite difficult,” the governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said in a message on the Telegram messaging app on Friday, adding that the evacuated residents were in temporary shelters in sports centers before being transported to regions further into Russia.
Mr Gladkov said in later posts that four people in the Belgorod region were killed by artillery shells on Friday, including two women who died after their car was hit near the town of Shebekino, about six miles from the Ukrainian border. A video posted by Russian military correspondents to document the aftermath showed a cloud of smoke rising near a motorcade of passenger cars. It could not be independently verified.
The number of people evacuated could not be confirmed, but Belgorod residents who have traveled to Shebekino described the farming community of 40,000 as a ghost town on Thursday. They said many residents had left without waiting for an official evacuation after shelling cellars during hours of shelling.
Unrest in the Belgorod region has intensified since two paramilitary groups crossed the border last week and briefly held two villages in another part of the region.
The groups, Free Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps, claimed in separate videos on Friday that they had been fighting on the outskirts of Shebekino for a second day. Russian authorities had said on Thursday that the insurgents at the border had been turned back. On Friday, spokesmen for the Russian Volunteer Corps and Free Russia Legion declined to comment on the Shebekino attack, except that the operation continued.
Both groups, which operate out of Ukraine and are made up of anti-Kremlin Russian citizens, have claimed they do not target civilians and only attack security installations.
Witnesses described extensive damage in the city on Thursday, including to residential buildings. Video footage verified by DailyExpertNews showed an apartment building in the city on fire.
The Russian Volunteer Corps said on Thursday it hit Shebekino police station with a Soviet-designed multiple rocket launcher Grad, an artillery weapon designed to cover a large area with explosives.
Michael Schwirtz reporting contributed.