Russia says Ukrainian shelling killed 2 in a border city while it thwarted an incursion

A woman gives out flowers at a gathering of family members of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday March 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Hicks)

A woman gives out flowers at a gathering of family members of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday March 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Hicks)

Ukrainian shelling of the Russian city of Belgorod killed two people, officials said Saturday, while Russia claimed to have thwarted a new attempt by saboteurs to cross the border.

Saturday’s attacks occurred as Russians entered the second day of voting in a presidential election that is all but certain to extend Vladimir Putin’s rule by another six years after he crushed dissent.

A man and a woman died in the attack and three other people were wounded, regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on the Telegram messaging app. It was the latest in exchanges of long-range missile and rocket fire in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Five people were also wounded when a Ukrainian drone hit a car in the village of Glotovo, some 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from the Ukrainian border, Gladkov said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry also said Saturday that it had thwarted attempts by “Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups” to enter the country from Ukraine’s Sumy region. That followed an armed incursion claimed by Ukraine-based Russian opponents of the Kremlin on Tuesday in the Belgorod and Kursk regions.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Moscow’s military and security forces killed 30 fighters while thwarting the latest incursion.

The Russian Volunteer Corps — one of the groups who claimed to have crossed the border on Tuesday, who say they are “fighting for the freedom of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples” — released a video on social media Saturday claiming to have captured 25 Russian soldiers.

Another of the groups, the Freedom of Russia Legion, warned of a “massive strike” on military bases in Belgorod late afternoon Saturday and urged residents to take shelter. Shortly afterward, Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian air defenses had shot down 15 rockets over the Belgorod region. Videos appeared on local news sites, appearing to show smoke rising from buildings and falling shrapnel. The authenticity of the videos couldn’t be independently verified.

Cross-border attacks in the area have taken place sporadically since the war began and have been the subject of claims and counterclaims, as well as disinformation and propaganda.

Also on Saturday, a Ukrainian drone attack caused a fire at an oil refinery belonging to Russian oil giant Rosneft in the Samara region, some 450 miles (725 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border, regional Gov. Dmitry Azarov said. He said an attack on another refinery was thwarted. No casualties were reported.

In a statement posted Saturday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the country’s military for its new “long-range capability.”

“What our own drones are capable of is a true Ukrainian long-range capability. Ukraine will now always have a strike force in the sky,” he said on social media.

A Ukrainian drone also dropped an explosive close to a polling station in the illegally annexed Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, Russian state news agency Tass said. No injuries or damage were reported.

The attacks come a day after a Russian assault on the Ukrainian port city of Odesa killed at least 21 people. The ballistic missile attack blasted homes in the southern city Friday, followed by a second missile that targeted first responders who arrived at the scene, officials said.

More than 50 people are still in the hospital following the attacks, Odesa Deputy Mayor Svitlana Bedreha said Saturday, according to Ukrainian state media.

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