Fear and Mayhem as Russia’s War Comes Home

‌With their bundles, the bedraggled residents of Shebekino form long lines outside sports arenas and cultural centers in Belgorod, where food is distributed. One vast dormitory, set in the middle of an indoor oval cycle track, has 700 beds on which the beached bodies of the aged are sprawled. An offer from local authorities of 50,000 rubles, or about $650, for those displaced by the fighting provoked flashes of outrage when it was announced on Thursday.

“They unleashed a war and now they want to close people’s mouths with pennies,” wrote Svetlana Ilyasova in a chat group of Shebekino residents on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia still insists, although increasingly halfheartedly, that a “special military operation” is underway in Ukraine, rather than a real war. But the term war is now used all of the time in Moscow, most often to describe the all-out confrontation with the West that Russia sees in the conflict.

“This is Russia against the collective West,” a senior official in Moscow, who declined to be named, said in an interview. “Ukraine is just the land where the performance is going on.”

Asked about the situation in Belgorod, the official said: “It is a disaster.”

Though battle lines in Ukraine have been nearly frozen for months, the shelling could be stopped, he insisted, if Russia chose to destroy Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. This is only 50 miles from Belgorod and is used, he said, as a rear base by the paramilitary forces. But, he continued, “we’re trying to demilitarize Ukraine, not eliminate it from the map.”

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