The Russian border region of Belgorod, located near the Ukrainian border, is witnessing the harsh reality of war as attacks intensify, leaving residents traumatized and cities ravaged. The recent escalation of violence has prompted the largest military evacuation effort in Russia in decades and is causing deep anxiety among Russian civilians who now find themselves living on the front lines.
Residents of Shebekino, a town of 40,000 situated just six miles from the border, have experienced sustained shelling and constant fear. The town has effectively transformed into a ghost town as a result of attacks by Ukrainian militia groups targeting both security infrastructure and residential areas. The assaults have led to widespread destruction, death, and an exodus of residents seeking safety elsewhere.
The war hitting Russian soil has shocked many locals who did not anticipate such violence unfolding in their own communities. Belgorod, the regional capital located 20 miles north of Shebekino, has also witnessed explosions and residents are now seeking refuge in basements functioning as makeshift bomb shelters. Daily life has been disrupted, and the attacks have caused a significant shift in public sentiment regarding the war.
While attacks on Russian territory by Ukrainian and Russian forces have occurred throughout the conflict, the recent assaults on Belgorod have brought Moscow’s lack of concern for its own citizens into sharp focus. Social media platforms have been flooded with posts under the hashtag #ShebekinoIsRussia, emphasizing the need for nationwide attention and support. Some residents express frustration with the inadequate response from local authorities, forcing them to rely on grassroots initiatives and self-organization to address the crisis.
The war’s arrival on Russian soil has rekindled civic spirit among the population, which has faced increasing control and suppression under President Vladimir Putin’s regime. However, it remains uncertain how this grassroots movement will shape the country’s politics going forward.
Despite the escalation of attacks, only a quarter of Russians are closely following the war, according to a recent poll. The majority of respondents either do not follow the conflict or only have a cursory interest, relying heavily on state media for information. The violence experienced by Shebekino residents, however, is forcing many Russians to reassess their apathy or support for the war and raises resentment towards authorities who have failed to protect them.
The disruption caused by the war has revealed the absence of a clear endgame. Russia has annexed parts of occupied Ukrainian territory and plans to hold elections there in September, despite the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. Border residents are left grappling with the futility of annexations and a war that shows no signs of resolution.
In Belgorod, the war’s impact is intensified by the city’s historical ties to Ukraine, with close proximity to the border and shared connections between residents. The destruction of their cities has shifted some residents’ perspectives, as they grapple with empathizing with their Ukrainian counterparts while blaming President Putin for the crisis.
The war on their doorstep has shattered the lives of Russian civilians, prompting a reassessment of their stance on the conflict and revealing the resilience and grassroots mobilization of communities left to fend for themselves. As the war continues, its consequences on Russian society and politics remain uncertain, but the deepening trauma and resentment among those affected are undeniable.