Rain of rockets, incursions, sabotage, repeated incidents… nowhere else in Russia is war as tangible as in the Belgorod region. Bordering north-eastern Ukraine, the oblast now suffers daily from the consequences of the “special operation” launched a year and a half ago by Vladimir Putin.
On May 22, several dozen members of the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), two movements from the ultranationalist opposition, led an unprecedented incursion there. Unprecedented since the start of the conflict, it forced the Russian authorities to briefly establish a “anti-terrorist operation zone legal regime”. The Russian Ministry of Defense ensures that they were repelled without firing a shot, but the humiliation is all the more bitter as it was far from being the first and clearly not the last.
Since early June, attacks targeting the Russian region have taken on a new dimension with occupied villages, artillery duels, civilian deaths and injuries as well as refugees fleeing combat zones.
Belgorod and Kharkiv, two “closely linked” cities before the annexation of Crimea
An upheaval for the Russian region, some of whose inhabitants had, before the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the uprising of pro-Russian militiamen in Donbass, used to take the opposite route to cross the border, especially to get to Kharkiv . Ukraine’s second city is 72 kilometers south of Belgorod, less than an hour and a half drive. Its status as a regional metropolis made it a destination of choice for shopping and leisure. Many Russians also had family or friends there.
The very strong economic ties and the axis linking the Russian and Ukrainian localities refer “to an almost continuous form of urbanization on both sides of the border”, confirms David Teurtrie, lecturer and associate researcher at the Europe Eurasia Research Center of the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco). The war “is all the more a tragedy [dans la région] that it affects populations that are closely linked, not only on the human side, but also by economic relations”explains Mr. Teurtrie.
The city of Belgorod has experienced steady population growth since the fall of the USSR, an evolution “quite original for Russia which, conversely, has rather experienced a demographic crisis” since 1991, with the exception of certain major centres, such as Moscow or Saint-Petersburg. This could be explained, according to the researcher, by the diversity of the economy of the region, shared between an industrialization dating from the 19e century (mainly metallurgical and mechanical) and a rich agriculture, thanks to the black soils favorable to the production of cereals.
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