MOSCOW, June 1 (Reuters) –
Russia said on Thursday it had repelled three attempted incursions along its border with Ukraine by what it casts as pro-Ukrainian militants, while heavy shelling prompted a partial evacuation of civilians from the area.
Ahead of an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive in the 15-month war, Russia has come under repeated attack in recent days, with a major cross-border incursion and, earlier this week, the biggest ever
Settlements in the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, were briefly seized by pro-Ukrainian forces last week during an incursion.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had repelled three cross-border attacks on Thursday near the town of Shebekino, and it accused Ukraine of using what it cast as “terrorist formations” to carry out attempted attacks on Russian civilians.
“The selfless actions of Russian servicemen repelled three attacks by Ukrainian terrorist formations,” the ministry said. “No violations of the state border were allowed.”
The ministry said more than 30 Ukrainian fighters had been killed, along with four armored vehicles destroyed.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield accounts from either side.
Earlier, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), a far-right paramilitary group of ethnic Russians that supports Ukraine, said it was fighting on Russian territory.
Moscow blames Ukrainian “terrorists” for targeting Russia’s western border, but Kyiv says anti-Putin Russian volunteers are acting there. Kyiv has denied any involvement but Russian officials say the group of fighters is a proxy run by Ukraine.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Ukraine’s armed forces had repeatedly shelled Shebekino with Soviet-designed Grad 122 mm rockets, setting alight a dormitory and damaging an administrative building.
At least nine civilians were injured in shelling in the region, he said.
In unverified video posted on social media, plumes of smoke were shown rising above a large building in Shebekino as flames licked through the destroyed roof.
“As soon as it calms down, we will continue the evacuation of people,” Gladkov said. “All temporary accommodation facilities are ready.”
He said hundreds of children, women and the elderly were already leaving the area, adding that he had given President Vladimir Putin an update on the situation. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Felix Light in Tbilisi; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones)