A firefight ripped through a Russian fuel depot near the border around dawn on Friday, and Moscow said Ukraine had attacked the facility, but Kiev denied any involvement. There was no independent confirmation of details about the incident.
Regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said two Ukrainian helicopters flew at low altitude and hit the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border, causing the explosion and fire.
Two workers at the depot were injured, he said. But Russian media quoted a statement from state oil company Rosneft as denying anyone was hurt.
More than 300 firefighters battled the blaze, using a helicopter and a special firefighting train, the Belgorod mayor’s office said. Gladkov said he met residents who had been relocated from their homes to a nearby sports facility. He also posted photos of craters and metal fragments in a rural area where he says explosions damaged a power line and broke a window.
It would not be the first attack reported within Russia since the war began on February 24, although nothing was so spectacular.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, denied that Ukraine was responsible.
“For some reason they say we did it, but it does not really correspond to reality,” he said on Ukrainian television.
Oleksiy Arestovich, presidential adviser, said earlier: “We are conducting defense operations in our area. Russian authorities are responsible for everything that happens on Russian territory. “
Russian authorities “need to find out what’s going on in Belgorod,” he said. “Maybe someone smoked in the wrong place. Maybe there was something else. Maybe Russian troops are sabotaging orders and do not want to enter Ukrainian territory with available means.”
Any air strike within Russia is likely to require skilled flying to avoid its air defenses.
The blast sparked a muted reaction from the Kremlin, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying it was not useful for talks with Ukraine.
On Russian social media, some users expressed surprise that Ukraine was still able to launch such an attack or get past Russian air defense. Russia’s daily video briefings by the Ministry of Defense often highlight the number of Ukrainian planes and helicopters shot down or destroyed.
Belgorod is about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the border and is about opposite Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city that has been under Russian bombing since the early stages of the war.
Earlier incidents in the Belgorod region caused local alarm, but had little wider appeal in the context of the war, portraying Russia as a “special military operation” with little effect on the lives of ordinary civilians.
On the first day of the war, three people were reported injured after shooting in Belgorod, although there was no independent confirmation. A statement from Russia’s state investigation committee said two adults and one child had been injured and an attempted murder had been launched.
Another criminal investigation by the committee was opened on March 1 after a report that two Ukrainian missiles from a Uragan launcher had landed in a rural area. This report was also not independently confirmed.
Gladkov said last week that a shell fired from Ukraine exploded in a village in the Belgorod region in an incident in which the Russian Orthodox Church said a military chaplain had been killed. A similar incident damaged homes. There was no independent confirmation of those reports.
Other explosions on March 29 were due to what Gladkov said he heard was a fire at an ammunition store in the border town of Krasny Oktyabr, citing “unverified information”. Ukraine was not blamed for the incident and Gladkov said he was awaiting official comments from the Ministry of Defense, although nothing followed and the cause of the fire remained unclear.
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