May 22 (Reuters) – The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Monday that a Ukrainian ‘subversive group’ had entered Russian territory in Ukraine’s bordering Gravoron district and was being driven back by Russian forces.
However, Ukrainian publication Hromadske, citing Ukrainian military intelligence, said two armed anti-Russian groups, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), had carried out the attack, both involving Russian civilians.
Baza, a Telegram channel linked to Russia’s security services, released aerial footage showing a Ukrainian armored vehicle advancing on the Graivoron border checkpoint.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin had been informed and work was underway to evict the “saboteurs,” state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Klatkov said in a telegram that the Russian army, border guards, presidential guards and the FSB security service were involved in the operation. He said no civilian was injured and there was no evacuation.
Basa said there were signs of fighting in three settlements on the main road into Russia. The “Open Belgorod” Telegram channel reported that electricity and water were cut off in several villages.
Reuters could not verify the news and the Ukrainian military was not immediately available for comment.
A group calling itself the Liberty of Russia Legion – a Ukraine-based Russian militia led by Russian opposition figure Ilya Ponomarev that says it is operating inside Russia to topple Putin – said on Twitter it had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozhikode. It said forward units had reached the district center of Greyvoron further east.
“Go. Russia will be free!” It wrote.
The group also released a video showing five armed militants.
“We are Russians like you, we are like you. We want our children to grow up in peace,” said one facing the camera. “It’s time to end the Kremlin’s tyranny.”
Hromadske quoted Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov as saying the Belgorod operation would create a “safe zone” to protect Ukrainians from Russian cross-border attacks.
The Kremlin said the incursion was aimed at diverting attention from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces say they have finally fully captured after more than nine months of intense fighting.
“We fully understand the goal of such a diversion – to divert attention from the Pakmut direction and to reduce the political effect of Pakmut’s loss on the Ukrainian side,” Peskov was quoted as saying.
In early March, the FSB announced that an “armed group of Ukrainian nationalists” from Ukraine had infiltrated Russia’s Bryansk region.
In videos circulating online at the time, the gunmen described themselves as Russian “liberators” from the RVC and said they had crossed the border to fight what they described as a “bloody Putinite and Kremlin regime”.
The RVC was founded last August by Denis Kapustin, a Russian nationalist based in Ukraine, and on May 17 announced on its Telegram channel that it was merging with the Freedom of Russia Legion.
The RVC has fought alongside Ukrainian forces on various fronts of the Ukraine conflict and claims to have made at least three incursions into the Bryansk region since March.
Reported by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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