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Russian border region closes malls and schools as Ukrainian attacks escalate

<i>Maxim Shemetov/Reuters via CNN Newsource</i><br/>A man rides a bicycle near a damaged market pavilion hit by recent shelling in the town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region of Russia on March 11.
Maxim Shemetov/Reuters via CNN Newsource
A man rides a bicycle near a damaged market pavilion hit by recent shelling in the town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region of Russia on March 11.

By Andrew Carey, Maria Kostenko and Josh Pennington, CNN

(CNN) — All schools and colleges in parts of the Russian region of Belgorod will be closed Monday and Tuesday following an increase in Ukrainian attacks on the territory, the region’s governor has announced.

Shopping malls will also be closed Sunday and Monday, Vyacheslav Gladkov added in a statement on Telegram. The affected districts lie alongside the border with Ukraine. The city of Belgorod itself is also subject to the closures.

The frequent attacks have brought the war in Ukraine to Russians largely isolated from the conflict.

Ukraine’s Spy Chief Kyrylo Budanov said Saturday that Russians are among the sabotage groups attacking the Russian regions of Belgorod and Kursk, which borders Ukraine.

“This is a story about how Russians solve this domestic issue. We may like some of them more, others less. But still, both are Russians,” Budanov said.

He added, during a broadcast, that attacks would continue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the attacks on the Belgorod and Kursk regions have been largely unsuccessful and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being constantly updated on the situation, Russian state news RIA Novosti reported.

In his earlier statement, Belgorod’s governor Gladkov said “the situation is quite difficult both in the city and in Belgorod district. Naturally, the issue of safety is the most important for all of us.”

“It is clear that teachers, nannies and technical staff are all worried,” he said.

Schools and colleges in the affected districts have effectively been closed from Tuesday evening last week, when Gladkov announced students would undertake what he called “days of self-learning” through Friday. At the time of the announcement he said he hoped schools would be able to resume normal activities on Monday.

Ukraine has been attacking the Belgorod region off and on since the first half of 2023 but scaled up shelling and strikes most about a week ago.

As in other parts of Russia, people in Belgorod are voting in a poll widely expected to see Vladimir Putin returned to power as president.

Voting continued for a second day on Saturday, with authorities having arrested several Russians for carrying out acts of civil disobedience.

On Saturday, Gladkov also said two people were killed in early morning attacks, including a truck driver whose vehicle was hit by a shell.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a post on its own Telegram channel Saturday that Russian forces had repelled attempts by Ukraine fighters to infiltrate Russia in several locations, saying it had carried out “a complex fire attack on concentrations of enemy manpower and equipment.”

Also on Saturday, a Ukrainian source told CNN that Ukraine’s security service (SBU) carried out drone strikes on three oil refineries in Russia’s Samara region.

The three refineries – which all belong to the Rosneft oil company – are sited along the Volga River at Novokuibyshevsk, Samara, and Syzran, and are located up to 1,000 kms from Ukrainian-held territory.

Local residents in Belgorod have been posting videos to regional social media platforms showing explosions in the city and fires burning outside residential buildings where Ukrainian strikes have taken place.

In one video a woman is heard telling her mother she is scared to leave her apartment.

Earlier in the week Ukrainian groups of Russian fighters on Tuesday mounted a cross-border attack in Belgorod while Belgorod city suffered heavy drone strikes and shelling.

At least five people have been reported killed in the last week, according to a CNN count, and several dozen wounded.

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This report has been updated with additional information.

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