Russia said Monday it had moved some 300 people from the border city of Belgorod due to Ukrainian shelling, the biggest evacuation from a major Russian city since the conflict began.
The unprecedented announcement follows waves of deadly strikes by Kyiv’s forces on Belgorod, which lies less than 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the Ukrainian border.
Some 300 residents who decided to leave are now being housed in temporary accommodation in the towns of Stary Oskol, Gubkin and the Korochansky district, further from the border, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.
“Over the past 24 hours we received 1,300 requests to send Belgorod children to school camps away from the city in other regions,” he added.
The Kremlin has tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy on the home front, but recent strikes on Belgorod have brought the Ukraine conflict closer to home for Russians.
On December 30, Ukrainian shelling of the city killed 25 people, prompting schools to shut for an extended period.
Moscow vowed to intensify strikes on Ukraine in response to the attack, the deadliest in Russia since the start of the war in February 2022.
– ‘Dozens of missiles’ –
At least four people were killed and dozens injured in a fresh wave of Russian strikes across Ukraine on Monday, regional officials said.
Kyiv warned last week it only had enough ammunition to withstand a few more powerful attacks, and has asked for more Western help.
“The enemy launched dozens of missiles at peaceful cities and villages of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s deputy head of the presidency Oleksiy Kuleba said.
A total of 59 projectiles were fired at Ukraine, including drones and missiles, the air force said, adding that Moscow had targeted civilian infrastructure.
Russian missiles hit a shopping centre and high-rise buildings in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, killing one person, Kuleba said.
“In Kryvyi Rih, there are many breakages in power grids, there are power outages, and electric transport does not work,” he said.
Two people were killed in a missile attack in the western region of Khmelnytsky, far from the frontlines in the east, Ukrainian police said.
In the eastern region of Kharkiv, an elderly woman pulled from the rubble of her house in the city of Zmiiv also died, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.
Russia said it had only struck “military” targets in its latest defence ministry briefing.
– ‘They’re trying to destroy us’ –
The attacks come a day after Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa paid a surprise visit to Kyiv Sunday, where she said Tokyo was “determined” to keep supporting Ukraine.
Kamikawa, the first high-level foreign official to visit Kyiv this year, announced new deliveries of defence equipment and discussed Tokyo’s plans to host a February conference to promote Ukraine’s economic reconstruction.
“Japan is determined to support Ukraine so that peace can return to Ukraine,” Kamikawa told a press conference with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba held in a bomb shelter as an air raid siren rang out.
“I once again strongly condemn Russia’s missile and drone attacks, particularly on New Year’s Day,” said Kamikawa.
She said Tokyo would “allocate” $37 million to provide Ukraine with a drone detection system. It will also supply five generators to help Ukraine “survive” another winter.
Kuleba said Kyiv was thankful for Japan’s decision last year to provide Ukraine with F-16s jets, but said the country also needed air defence systems.
“Every day, Ukrainian cities are destroyed by Russian missiles and drones. They cannot capture us, so they are trying to destroy us,” he said.