Russian troops and security forces fought for a second day on Tuesday against an alleged cross-border raid that Moscow blamed on Ukrainian military saboteurs but which Kyiv portrayed as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region on the Ukraine border, said forces continued to sweep the rural area around the town of Graivoron, where the alleged attack on Monday took place.
Ten civilians were wounded in the attack, he said, and one died.
He urged residents of the area who evacuated on Monday to stay put and not go back to their homes.
“We will let you know immediately when it is safe,” he said. “Security agencies are carrying out all the necessary actions. We’re waiting for the counterterrorism operation to be over.”
It was impossible to verify who was behind the attack or what its aims were, and disinformation has been one of the weapons of the almost 15-month war.
While it is not the first time Russia has alleged an incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs, it is the first time the operation to counter the raid has continued for a second day, highlighting the struggles Moscow is facing amid its bogged-down invasion of Ukraine and embarrassing the Kremlin.
The Ministry of Defence in the UK said Russian security forces “highly likely” clashed with partisans in at least three locations within Belgorod.
“Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action,” it said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Russia’s investigative committee, the country’s top law enforcement agency, announced an investigation into alleged terrorism and attempted murder in connection with the incident.
The attacks resulted in no casualties, but damaged buildings and caused a fire. On Tuesday two more drones were shot down by the region’s air defence systems.
Mr Gladkov first reported on Monday that a Ukrainian armed forces saboteur group entered Graivoron, a town about three miles from the border with Ukraine. The town also came under Ukrainian artillery fire, he said.
He later announced a counterterrorist operation in the area, and said that authorities were imposing special controls, including personal document checks, and stopping the work of companies that use “explosives, radioactive, chemically and biologically hazardous substances”.
Ukrainian officials blamed the incident on Russian guerrilla groups bent on changes at the Kremlin.
Ukraine intelligence representative Andrii Cherniak said Russian citizens belonging to murky groups calling themselves the Russian Volunteer Corps and the “Freedom of Russia” Legion were behind the assault.
The Russian Volunteer Corps claimed in a Telegram post it had crossed the border into Russia again, after claiming to have breached the border in early March.