Licence to shell

Ukraine’s army has been increasingly attacking Russian territories — some located hundreds of kilometres away from the front line. Novaya-Europe’s research

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

Since the start of the war, border regions of Russia, according to Novaya Gazeta Europe’s calculations, have been shelled at least 350 times. A total of 168 civilians were killed or injured in these attacks, and over 1,000 residential buildings, schools, and infrastructure facilities were damaged. Since autumn, local governors have sometimes been reporting several attacks per day. And if before, shelling was only reported in small villages located near the border, now the Ukrainian army has begun “reaching” big cities and military facilities inside the country more frequently.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the US’ new military aid package to Ukraine includes 150-km range missiles — twice the range compared to before. Furthermore, according to statements made by Ukraine’s authorities, a new attack drone with a flight range of 1,000 km is almost ready — a range wide enough to strike upon Moscow where Pantsir air defence systems were recently installed on the roofs of administrative buildings.

Still, Russian authorities are in no rush to evacuate residents constantly under attack, while Russian air defence systems are only repelling 20% of air attacks. Novaya-Europe’s data team has looked into how the war boomerangs on Russia’s territory.

Over the year of war, Ukraine’s shelling of Russian territories has increased tenfold — while in March, a handful of shells made it to the territory of border villages, January saw Russian authorities report attacks 1.5 times per day on average.

The Belgorod region has the highest number of attacks on record. According to the local governor, over 50 villages and towns have been bombed. Furthermore, while last spring, only two small border villages, Zhuravlevka and Nekhoteevka, were being shelled most of the time, now shells reach towns with populations of over 10,000.

The town of Shebekino, with a population of 40,000, and the town district have been shelled at least 27 times this winter. The Ukrainian border is six kilometres away. Seventeen local residents were injured and five were killed. Dozens of locals are now homeless: 66 private and 11 multi-storey buildings were destroyed in shelling, as well as a mall and a market.

On 10 September, Russian troops surrendered the city of Vovchansk in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

“Since then, there hasn’t been a day without shelling,” Shebekino resident Yulia says. “Our life is a game of Russian roulette. At first, I prayed to God before sleep so I would wake up alive. In the morning, I’d thank him for keeping us alive. We basically live day by day. We got used to shelling and shots fired — it doesn’t wake us up at night anymore. It’s weird when it gets quiet — it leads to anxiety that something horrible is about to happen. This is the burden of living near the border. But we continue on, we don’t give way to despair. For now, we can stomach it.”

The nearby town of Valuyki, according to local residents, also gets shelled daily. According to official data, three civilians were killed and six people were injured in shelling in the autumn and winter season.

“Since the start of the special military operation, our lives have changed significantly. But even if we were to leave, where to and for how long? What will happen to our homes? I have two kids, the oldest is 13, the youngest is three years old. They, of course, no longer go to neither kindergarten nor school — all of us are at home, they’re doing distance learning. This leads to some difficulties, but we believe that soon this nightmare will end,” Valuyki resident Tatiana Kulikova says.

The Kursk region is the second most frequently shelled region of Russia. Over the year of war, local authorities have reported 100 strikes, three of which involved the regional capital getting shelled.

Another border territory, Bryansk region, was shelled 39 times. Among the damaged towns is Klintsy, the second most populated town in the region. It is located 50 km away from the Ukrainian border — farther than the cities of Kursk and Belgorod. According to official data, Klintsy was shelled four times this winter alone.

The next most shelled territory is Russia-annexed Crimea. The Ukrainian Armed Forces usually have military facilities in Sevastopol as their target, including the Black Sea Fleet vessels. Since 24 February 2022, Ukraine has attacked Crimea at least 36 times, according to Russian authorities.

Russian and Crimean territories shelled since start of the war