Fighting is ongoing in southern Russia after armed groups launched more cross-border attacks from Ukraine with Moscow saying it targeted the “terrorists” with artillery fire.
The governor of the besieged Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Sunday that clashes again erupted on his side of the border, and acknowledged for the first time that pro-Ukrainian forces had taken Russian prisoners of war during incursions.
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He said he was ready for talks to retrieve “our guys” and told the armed groups he would meet them for the exchange.
“A sabotage group came in. There is combat in [the] Novaya Tavolzhanka [border village],” Gladkov said. “I hope they will all be destroyed.”
“The only thing stopping me from negotiating with them is our guys that are in their hands, maybe they are already dead,” said Gladkov.
Ukraine has intensively shelled Russian settlements on the border recently, forcing thousands to flee to the regional hub of Belgorod.
Russia’s military later claimed it repelled a “sabotage group of Ukrainian terrorists” seeking to cross the frontier near the settlement.
“The enemy was hit by artillery. The enemy scattered and retreated,” it said in a statement.
Gladkov earlier asked residents of the Shebekino border district to leave their homes because of the shelling.
‘Sent to the slaughter’
Fighting around Novaya Tavolzhanka follows last month’s dramatic armed incursion from Ukraine that forced Russia’s military to use artillery and air strikes on home soil. The border breach was claimed by anti-Kremlin nationalists.
Earlier, the armed groups published a video addressing the governor. It claimed to show “prisoners” their captors called “simple soldiers sent by your leadership to this war”.
The one minute and 26 second clip showed what appeared to be about a dozen Russian soldiers being held captive, with two lying on hospital beds. A man identifying himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand over the soldiers in exchange for a meeting with Governor Gladkov.
He described the captives as “ordinary soldiers whom you and your political leadership sent to the slaughter”, said a statement posted with the video.
Hours later, Gladkov appeared in a video message in which he agreed to meet the group if the soldiers were still alive.
“Most likely they killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 5-6pm – Shebekino checkpoint. I guarantee safety,” Gladkov said.
The fighter in the video said Gladkov did not turn up at the designated meeting place. “We have already decided the fate of these guys. They will be transferred to the Ukrainian side for the exchange procedure,” he said.
Ukraine officials have predicted the rise of what they call forces opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“These Russian men took up arms against their will. Soon they will understand the whole vileness and injustice of the war unleashed by Putin,” another Corps member, who did not identify himself, said in the video.
‘The future of Russia’
Ukraine has consistently denied responsibility for attacks on Russian soil, but presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Sunday the situation in the border areas “should be viewed as the future of Russia”.
Gladkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces continued to shell his region overnight after two people were killed the previous evening and hundreds of children were evacuated away from the border.
The attacks on the Belgorod region come as Kyiv says it is preparing a major counteroffensive against Russian forces.
In a video published on Sunday, the Ukrainian army appeared to call on soldiers to stay silent about the plans and said there will be no announcement on the start of the long-awaited counterattack.