War may feel distant to many in Moscow, but for residents of Belgorod, a city just 25 miles from the Ukrainian border, it is all too real. Military trucks and armoured personnel carriers rumble through intersections, and groups of men in camouflage walk the streets and shop for military goods like thermal underwear. Refugees pour in from territories in Ukraine that were recently lost to the enemy.
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The sounds of nearby explosions have become regular occurrences in Belgorod, and anxious store owners call the police reporting imagined bomb threats, a sign of the paranoia that is starting to spread. Residents fear what will come next, with some even discussing the possibility of a nuclear war. \”We\’re really scared,\” said Olga Krasnova, a 28-year-old doctor. \”We understand that anything could happen at any moment.\”
The sense of foreboding in Belgorod is a stark contrast to the relative calm in Moscow, where most people seem unfazed by the prospect of war. But as the fighting in Ukraine drags on and the death toll rises, it is becoming increasingly clear that the conflict is no longer just a regional one – it has the potential to spiral into a much larger and far more dangerous confrontation. According to some estimates, there are already more than 9,000 Russian troops in Ukraine – a significant increase from the few hundred there just a few months ago. And while the Kremlin denies that it is fighting a war in Ukraine, the evidence on the ground tells a different story.
In Belgorod, for example, many of the men who have been drafted into the military are openly talking about their experiences fighting in Ukraine. One soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was sent to Donetsk, one of the main conflict zones in eastern Ukraine, earlier this year. \”I saw dead bodies everywhere,\” he said. \”It was like a horror movie.\”
The soldier said he and his fellow soldiers were constantly under attack from Ukrainian forces and that they had to be very careful when moving around the city. \”You never knew when a shell would land on you,\” he said.
The fighting in Donetsk has been particularly intense recently, as Ukrainian forces have pushed to retake the city from Russian-backed separatists. The United Nations estimates more than 300 people have been killed in the fighting since September.
And while the fighting may take place hundreds of miles away from Belgorod, its residents say they can feel the effects of the war. Many shops in the city have been selling out of military supplies, and there is a growing market for goods like gas masks and radiation detectors. \”People are really scared,\” said Sergei, a shopkeeper who sells military supplies. \”They\’re buying whatever they can to prepare for the worst.\”
The conflict in Ukraine has also had a major impact on Belgorod\’s economy. The city used to be a popular destination for Ukrainian shoppers, but now the flow of visitors has all but dried up. Businesses that cater to tourists, like hotels and restaurants, have been hit hard by the decline in visitors.
\”It\’s been very tough,\” said Mikhail Borisov, the owner of a hotel in Belgorod. \”Our business has dropped by 70 per cent since the war started.\” Borisov said he was worried about what would happen if the fighting in Ukraine spread to Belgorod. \”We\’re so close to the border,\” he said. \”If the war comes here, it will be a disaster.\”
Despite the growing alarm in Belgorod, most residents say they don\’t want to see a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine. But with the situation in eastern Ukraine showing no signs of improving, they are increasingly preparing for the worst.
\”We\’re just trying to survive,\” Krasnova said. \”That\’s all we can do.\”
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