Belgorod Oblast: the Humanitarian Catastrophe the TV Media Won’t Сover
March 25, 2024
Belgorod residents live under constant shelling and increasingly frequent raids by pro-Ukrainian saboteurs. Republic spoke with several residents of the area where shops, pharmacies and businesses are closed and there is a shortage of food and essential goods.
The original text in Russian was published in Republic and is being republished here with small changes and with their permission.

According to official data, in just one week in mid-March, 16 people were killed and 98 were injured due to shelling in the Belgorod Oblast. As a result, local officials decided to evacuate thousands of children to other regions. In addition, entry into a number of cities and villages is restricted, and military checkpoints have been erected.

Just like a year ago, when the first evacuation measures were announced against the backdrop of the attacks and shelling, people are surprised that martial law has not yet been declared in the region, and the scale of the tragic events is kept silent, while the local population “lives in hell” and is forced to consider themselves “disposable.”

Evacuation, checkpoints, food packages

On March 19, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov announced the decision to evacuate about nine thousand children to other regions of the Russian Federation due to the shelling. They will be transported from Belgorod and areas located on the border with Ukraine. The first ⁠1.2 thousand children will go to Penza, Tambov, Kaluga and the Stavropol Krai.

At the end of this week, schools in Belgorod and border municipalities will go on holiday early. Distance learning will be introduced in colleges and universities “without requiring the presence of teachers in university buildings.” Sports activities and clubs in cultural institutions have also been cancelled. Parents whose children go to kindergarten are asked to leave them at home if possible. “If this is not possible, we will help parents who work in essential professions,” Gladkov assured.
Belgorod after a missile attack, February 15, 2024. Source: Social Media
Starting March 20, entry into a number of villages, as well as the city of Grayvoron, will be restricted. Checkpoints will be set up at the entrances to these areas manned by military personnel and employees of the Russian Guard. Local residents have been promised exemptions from rent and utilities payments for March. Those who need to feed their livestock will have to coordinate passage through. “The procedure for visiting their residential buildings will be determined. We will ensure safe passage to the location of the house and back when there is no shelling,” the governor said.

In a number of areas in the Belgorod Oblast, no shops are left open and free food packages will be distributed to residents. Shopping centers previously suspended operations in Belgorod and several districts within the region. The company "Vkusno i tochka" [formerly McDonald's -RP] has temporarily closed their chain in the center of the region.

Gladkov added that “a large number of villages” are being resettled in the Grayvoronsky Oblast, as during the presidential elections, the situation with the shelling grew “increasingly tense.” He noted that local authorities urged residents to evacuate, but some refused. “At first people said: ‘No, we will stay.’ The shelling began to intensify and they said: “Get us out.” And it’s almost impossible to physically provide evacuation assistance without putting the lives of others at risk,” said Gladkov.
Pro-government media and federal TV channels do not report what is really happening in the Belgorod Oblast; they limit themselves to quoting reports from officials on the work being done.
Belgorod following an artillery attack. Source: Social Media
Meanwhile, propagandist Anastasia Kashevarova called the situation in the Belgorod border region a “humanitarian catastrophe.” “There is no electricity in Grayvoron people are without any means of communication, without water. Shops and pharmacies are closed. <...> Moscow holds concerts, events, etc., and Belgorod, which is within the zone of the special military operation, is flooded with the blood of civilians,” she writes on her Telegram channel.

Press Secretary for the President Dmitry Peskov stated back in the summer of 2023 that the situation with shelling in the Belgorod Oblast “cannot in any way influence the course of the ‘special operation’ of the Russian Federation as a whole.” According to him, Vladimir Putin “regularly receives information” about what is happening in the border regions of Russia. On March 20, the president thanked the residents of the Belgorod region for their courage and promised to do everything to support the people, but did not specify how.

“Show [the people] Belgorod, which is being wiped off the face of the earth”

Mass evacuations of residents of the Belgorod Oblast began in June 2023, when pro-Ukrainian units of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK, declared a terrorist organization within Russia) and the Freedom of Russia Legion (also recognized as a terrorist organization and banned within the Russian Federation) began to conduct their first forays into Russian territory. (Russia.Post wrote about it here).

At the time, Belgorod residents spoke about the terrifying conditions under which children were being evacuated to other Russian regions amidst the sounds of explosions and the backdrop of burning houses. According to eyewitnesses, these children were not settled in camps in the countryside as promised, but rather taken to buildings that had not been renovated for a very long time, rife with unsanitary conditions and lacking clean bed sheets.

Later, evacuated Belgorod residents complained of looting by the Russian military, who had moved into the empty houses, and about the fact that they hadn’t received the payments promised by the authorities. Moreover, their banks had refused to offer them a period of forbearance. Many were unable to obtain humanitarian aid.

Apparently, the situation has not changed over the past year. The governor’s social media sites are periodically bombarded by waves of angry messages. Last week, local residents once again left comments en masse under Gladkov’s posts, declaring that “people have no water, food, or medicine and lack any means of subsistence; There are no cash payments either.” Belgorod residents are wondering whether those “at the top” know about the shelling and why the federal government “doesn’t hear or see” them?

A similar picture can be seen on the social media pages of federal TV channels.
“The whole country is living peacefully, Belgorod is being bombed!!!” ; “Moscow is rejoicing! A feast during the plague, and we are sitting in the basement!!!”; “The elections are over, people are abandoned”; “When will this nightmare end? Innocent people are dying…” ; “Show [the people] Belgorod, which is being wiped off the face of the earth while the authorities do nothing” ; “They don't care about us, there is silence about what is happening in Belgorod.” Citizens were indignant in the face of the rally concert (read more here and here) in honor of Vladimir Putin’s reelection to a fifth presidential term and the decade of the annexation of Crimea.

Republic spoke in more detail about this with several residents of the Belgorod region (they requested that their surnames be redacted):

Grigory, Novaya Tavolzhanka Village, Shebekinsky District

“I work as a security guard; my family and I moved to Belgorod last year. It was very difficult to evacuate my elderly mother; she was bedridden. The site of our village is now nothing but ruins; local businesses were bombed.

We thought that we would be safe, but in Belgorod we also hear explosions and shelling every day, the roar is constant. Aircrafts regularly fly overhead. War is much closer than many Russians think. I see broken houses, injured people and refugees every day.

We are seriously considering moving deeper into the country. Because we can’t bear this any longer. You could die any day. And on top of that, it’s difficult to find a job. And they don’t say anything about it on federal TV. Do we have to go to the Kremlin with pitchforks for the people in our country to understand the reality of the situation?”

Sergey, Belgorod

“It’s very scary for our city and people, especially those who had to leave the border villages. The once cozy Belgorod is turning into a ‘gray zone,’ and settlements near the border have almost been wiped out. Some streets in Belgorod are also unrecognizable due to the bombing; there are burnt out shells of cars.

And there are new [bombs] flying in every day. Yesterday, one fell near our work and everyone was dismissed. We didn’t work, we sat in the basement. How can we earn money, how can we pay for utilities, pay taxes, pay off loans--how can we continue to live in general under such conditions? There are no credit or tax deferments. Many people want to escape from this horror, but how can they leave their apartments and houses? The authorities spout empty words about some petty obligations, and while this is happening, civilians continue to die.”

Pavel, Rzhevka Village, Shebekinsky District

“Of course, many have somehow gotten used to current life in the borderlands. We no longer cower after each explosion, but it’s still very scary. The general atmosphere has become militant. There are patrols along the streets, passports are periodically checked, there are more checkpoints...

The Ministry of Defense reports that our troops are taking Avdeevka and Rabotino, but that it is necessary to conduct active military operations in the Kharkiv Oblast in order to create a buffer zone there. In the meantime, we have to move around the city by calculating the safe time between the arrivals of missiles and drones. And while here people die and are injured every day, the rest of Russia celebrates Maslenitsa [the last, festival week before Great Lent - RP], holds concerts, and so on.”

Natalya, Belgorod

“The bombings are happening more and more often. When will our troops begin to push [the Ukrainian Armed Forces] away from the border? Why do children, old people and other residents suffer? Why let it get to the point it has gotten to now? There is no opportunity to work and live normally in Belgorod. And how can we feed our families?
Another important question. There are working parents of preschool children who do not have grandparents, they are in a hopeless situation. How can we send a child to kindergarten in these conditions? And there is no way to sit at home with him...And the children are frightened, some have begun to experience psychological issues. There’s almost no help offered for this. We’re at a sort of dead end. It’s a true hell that they don’t talk about on TV.”

Ivan, Belgorod

“Because of the shelling, housing prices fell, as private housing became more vulnerable. On the other hand, prices for apartments have risen because there are more people due to refugees from villages and Ukrainian territories. But nothing new is being built, construction projects are frozen. Plus there is less work. People employed in trade, services, catering and taxis were left without an income. Many people have loans and mortgages, but the banks don’t care whether you are in Moscow or Belgorod, and your house has already been bombed. You still have to pay. <…>

There is no systematic evacuation occurring, even in the border villages. There are temporary accommodation centers for people, but there’s not enough space…there are great difficulties accommodating the elderly, disabled and sick. And bringing animals is prohibited. Belgorod residents aren’t granted refugee status, although that’s what many of us have become.

At the same time, there is noticeably less food in stores. There is no meat, sausage, vegetables and fruits...There are also issues getting medicine <...>

I, personally, did not vote for Putin, and many of my friends and relatives didn’t either, because we see that the federal authorities are doing nothing to prevent Russian territories from being shelled.”

The contribution of the Russian military to the chaos on Belgorod soil

Bombing and commando raids by Ukrainian Armed Forces have become commonplace in Belgorod. One of the most massive attacks occurred on February 15, when a missile volley damaged a shopping center, store, school and residential buildings. Local authorities reported five dead and at least 18 injured...

However, shelling and raids aren’t the only thing tormenting Belgorod residents. The Russian military is also playing its part. At the end of April 2023, a powerful explosion occurred in Belgorod, creating a huge crater with a radius of 20 meters. Trees and power poles were knocked down, parked cars were damaged, and one of the cars was thrown onto the roof of a store by the blast wave. Windows in residential buildings and other buildings nearby were broken and cracks appeared in the walls. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that the explosion occurred due to a “random abnormal release of ammunition” from the pylon of a Russian Su-34 aircraft flying over the city.

On May 25 and 4, 2023, two unexploded FAB-500 aerial bombs were discovered in the Belgorod Oblast--one in Belgorod itself and one in the village of Kalinino. The first was found in the fields during seasonal work and the second was “buried” underground in a privately owned lot, and the entire street had to be evacuated.

According to information from Russian Telegram channels, on January 27, 2024, a FAB-250 aerial bomb was also discovered in a farmstead in the Belgorod Oblast. On the same day, another FAB-250 was found in the village of Streletskoye, Belgorod Oblast. ⁠ A week prior, on January 21, a FAB-250 had been found on the territory of the Belgorod Oblast near the Ionovka farmstead. It partially damaged a local dam, but did not detonate.

Finally, on January 24 of this year, a Russian military transport aircraft Il-76 crashed in the Belgorod Oblast. Evidently, it was shot down. The Russian side claims that there were 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war and nine Russians on board, all of whom died. A number of [pro-war Telegram] Z-channels claimed that the plane could have been hit by Russian air defense systems.

In the third year of the war in Ukraine, the Belgorod Oblast has gone from a border region to front-line territory.
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