Skip to main content

‘Ghostly' city: How Russia's war in Ukraine is taking axa0toll on its own Belgorod region

·3 mins

Deserted streets, shuttered shops and silent restaurants. Damaged buildings and craters from missile strikes pockmarking the asphalt. The once-tranquil city of Belgorod, some 25 miles north of Russia’s border with Ukraine, has been transformed into a kind of ghost town, its eerie silence interrupted by the regular wail of missile warning sirens – a reminder that the war raging in neighboring Ukraine looms ever closer.

Belgorod has been the launch site for many rocket and missile attacks on Ukraine, and a key military hub for Russia’s invading forces. In 2023, Ukraine changed tactics and expanded its operations more overtly onto Russian territory, putting Belgorod region firmly in its crosshairs.

In recent weeks, the Belgorod region has been subject to almost daily shelling and drone attacks. Russian authorities blame Ukraine and report having repelled the attacks, while also admitting destruction and casualties caused by them. The governor of Belgorod region said that 24 people had been killed and 152 injured in the span of less than two weeks.

Residents of Belgorod have shared their struggle to navigate an uncertain future in the city, where everyday life has been irrevocably altered by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by Russia in February 2022. Reporting from the region is complicated by media restrictions and government control over press freedom.

Videos emerging from Belgorod showed scenes of chaos as people drove through thick smoke and burned-out cars, as well as damaged buildings and residents fleeing with their belongings amid the sounds of explosions and distant air-raid sirens.

The main square of Belgorod bears shrapnel damage - a reminder of a shell that fell during one of the most devastating attacks. Following a major air attack on Ukraine by Russia, Kyiv retaliated by targeting the Belgorod region, resulting in deaths and injuries.

Many residents of Belgorod are afraid to leave the city and have experienced a sense of fear and anxiety every time the sirens go off. The city has become emptier, with far fewer people venturing outside unless necessary.

The disruptions caused by the attacks have resulted in the closure of malls and schools, as well as sporadic food deliveries. Many locals are considering leaving the city but face obstacles such as family obligations or fear of the unknown.

The war has had a profound effect on the relationships between people in Belgorod and across the border in Kharkiv, Ukraine. There is a sense of disheartenment and longing for a return to normalcy.

While some individuals have chosen to move away from the region for safety reasons, the authorities have not ordered a general evacuation. However, thousands of children have been relocated to more secure regions due to ongoing shelling.

The war has also led to an escalation of crime and disorder in deserted areas. Border villages in the Belgorod region remain largely abandoned and in a state of disrepair.

As the war drags on, residents of Belgorod become less optimistic about the future, fearing the possibility of scorched earth left behind by the conflict.