In the Belgorod region, there is a yellow level of terrorist danger and a flower festival is taking place. How volunteers, refugees and businessmen have been living in the border region since the beginning of the military special operation – in the RBC report /756522572792425.jpg” alt=”How the border Belgorod and its inhabitants live” />
“There is a danger”
In early April, after several shells flew into the Belgorod region from the Ukrainian side, a yellow, elevated terrorist threat level was introduced in the region. According to Igor Tsevmenko, a deputy of the Belgorod City Council from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the authorities have not fully deciphered what the yellow level means. “As I understand it, this is a recognition that there is a danger. That's right— it would be bad to pretend that nothing is going on,— he says. Armed National Guardsmen appeared in crowded places and at the entrances to administrative buildings. Otherwise, everything is the same as before, says the deputy of the City Council.
In the last two weeks, the sounds of explosions have been heard throughout the region. On the afternoon of May 5, unidentified people fired grenade launchers at the fuel storage facility of the Sklyarenko Borisov Plant of Bridge Metal Structures, located more than 15 km from the Ukrainian border. A few hours before, the border villages of Zhuravlevka and Nekhoteevka, along the Belgorod highway, were shelled. Kharkov. Explosions, the sounds of which reach Belgorod, more often turn out to be air defense launches. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the local governor, was one of the first to report which settlements were shelled. He actively leads social networks, his Telegram channel has under 200 thousand subscribers. For some time, a photo collage appeared on the channel's avatar, where Gladkov is standing in a military jacket with a hood on his head and a machine gun glued behind his back.
RBC sent requests to the regional administration with a request to provide comments and organize meeting with authorized officials.
In Belgorod, nervousness is almost not felt. Trucks with the letters Z on the sides drive through the streets. Machine gunners are bored in an empty city square. Clean streets, neat plantings and flower beds with annuals.
There are a lot of people in military uniform in the city— in queues in supermarkets, mobile phone shops, in local bars. But the bartender of one of the establishments in the center of Belgorod, Dmitry, told RBC that they began to refuse to serve people in uniform, asking them to come in civilian clothes in order to avoid possible conflicts— drunken visitors pester.
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Symbols in support of the special operation are found on the clothes of passers-by, black caps and T-shirts, cars with the letters Z drive, stops are plastered with posters with the Russian military, billboards with the slogans “For Russia” along the roads ;, “For ours” and “For Putin”.
Now there are fewer such paraphernalia than at the beginning of the special operation, says a local journalist, deputy editor-in-chief of the Lantern publication. Nikita Parmenov— in the area, according to him, there were several incidents of damage to cars with the letters Z.
On May 3, the Belgorod authorities erected a two-meter plastic statue of a grandmother with the Soviet flag in the city center— as another symbol of the military operation. But within a day it was removed, because, as the mayor of the city Anton Ivanov explained, “it came to attempts to climb the sculpture.” There were also anti-war actions with detentions in the city. At the end of March, two residents went out into the city, dressed in blue and yellow, and began to distribute flowers, they were quickly detained and protocols were drawn up for violating the rules for holding a public event.
Lack of information and arrivals
From May 1 to May 3, the city hosted the flower festival “River in Bloom”. These three days in the central park of Victory, decorated with thousands of tulips, the townspeople with children gathered, although earlier Governor Gladkov recommended residents to avoid crowds. With the introduction of the yellow level of terrorist threat, residents of the region are also prohibited from blowing up fireworks and petards, but the fireworks on May 9 took place.
The authorities enter the yellow level of the terrorist threat with one hand, and with the other hand organize a flower festival, notes Parmenov.
There were at least two cases in the city that could be called panic, recalls deputy Tsevmenko. On February 24 and April 1, the day two Ukrainian helicopters blew up the city's oil depot, lines of cars lined up outside the gas stations, he says.
The main problem that Belgorod residents are now experiencing is — psychological, he says. “Firstly, these are arrivals. Secondly, the lack of information, which is why rumors are multiplying. And thirdly, in Belgorod, many people in Ukraine have relatives. Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city, is an hour away by car. Until 2014, an electric train went there, and locals went to Ukraine almost every weekend— it was cheaper, tastier and more fun there,” recalls Parmenov.
“[The current conflict] is splitting families,”— Tsevmenko says. He has a grandmother's sister in Sumy now. A month ago, the sisters, who are over 70 years old, had a fight and have not communicated since. Answering a question about his attitude to the special operation, Tsevmenko says: “It was unexpected.”
“We have shock therapy”
Opposite the Belgorod airport— motorsport complex «Virage». On the site in front of it is a tent city: a kindergarten tent, a hairdresser's tent, a dining tent and several dozen dwelling tents. At the end of the camp, children play in a pile of sand. These are refugees from the villages of the Kharkov region, which were occupied by Russian troops. In one of the tents, former residents of Cossack Lopan. Russian troops entered the village on the first day of the special operation and took up positions along the perimeter. For some time it was calm, for the first time the village was shelled only on March 17, and then silence again. The village is “in the ravine”, and from the heights they constantly exchanged fire, “it whistled overhead, but did not fly,” says 35-year-old Nikolai, he worked in the local administration. “The [Russian] military said: we have air defense, everything is fine, everything is protected. They began to import slate, to restore the school. And from April 22 every day arrivals »,— Nicholas continues. “His daughter-in-law died,” — says 29-year-old Tatyana.
Photo: Alexander Atasuntsev/RBC
“And for two months we are like homeless dogs,” “the Russians didn’t offend us, but they deprived us of everything,” “if there hadn’t been this special operation, I would have worked peacefully,” “we were released for two months and didn’t move a meter from Cossack [ Lopan]”, “we don’t get into politics”, “my father is Russian, my mother is Ukrainian. Who am I?»— refugees sitting in a tent are spoken out.
Tatyana takes a bright plastic figurine of a ninja turtle out of her bag: “He is sitting small, ten years old, in the cellar, playing, someone gave him on the playground. And he says: we will not be, but the toy will remain. And someone will think what good children played with it.
One of the stand-alone administrative tents— psychologist's tent. To the left of the entrance— children's table with pencils, in the far corner— a lectern with an icon, drawings hanging on ropes under a tarpaulin. Psychologist Dina is sitting in a down jacket, listing the complaints that refugees make. “They don't blame anyone and only think they're safe here”, — she tells. “One woman heard the plane and burst into tears. But you have to get used to the sounds of peaceful life— airplanes too. They don't care to socialize,— continues Dina, answering the question about the appropriateness of accommodating refugees who have just left the war zone near a military airfield.
“We're in shock therapy,” the head of the TAP notices from behind.— But they have to get used to [peaceful life], yes».
«People are just starving there»
“To those who ended up on the” Bend ” “lucky” because they will be dressed, fed, “and others— no»,— says Julia. She helps refugees from Ukraine who come to the Belgorod region. Until 2014, she lived with her husband and child in Kharkov, and after that they moved to Belgorod, leaving the business in Ukraine. In Kharkov, Yulia has relatives who want, but cannot, leave for Russia. There are no official evacuation corridors, she says, only at your own peril and risk. “People walked 10-15 km on foot, threw things, without anything. Names and phone numbers were written on the children with felt-tip pens, so that, if something happened, it was clear where to attach them, & mdash; she tells the stories of those who managed to get to Russia. Studying, how you can leave Ukraine for Russia, Julia began to help those who managed to get across the border.— Or, for example, they were stopped by the Russians in a car and they say: you can’t drive in a car. And people just leave the car and walk because life is more expensive.
Now she provides for about 80 families, more than 350 people. According to her, a catastrophic situation has developed in 10-15 villages, where fighting has been going on for the third month and people cannot leave. Humanitarian aid can not pass because of the shelling. “People are just starving there, eating nothing for weeks but tea, moldy bread and flour-steamed onions,” — she says and shows the correspondence with the Kharkov woman, whose parents live in the village of Tsirkuny. “Now it hurts me to such an extent to see how my neighbors, friends, classmates live there in the basements,— Julia says. — I can't accept it inside. Maybe it's just that a lot of things are incomprehensible to me, as a woman, as a mother. But if a child suffers— rips off my tower».
She shows correspondence with a friend of their family, a surgeon. On February 24, when the shelling began, he asked her if there would be a green corridor (to leave for Russia), if they would accept them. “Of course,” — Julia replied. And on March 21 he wrote to her: «<…> I just want you to know that we hate you so much already… <…>».
Another friend of hers, Yulia says, began to correspond with her in Ukrainian from the third day. “You can just like my messages, call me whatever you like, but at least that way I will know that everything is fine with you,” — she answered him. These people maintained pro-Russian views after 2014, Yulia says.
“There is no electricity anywhere”
Volunteers in Belgorod help not only refugees. A few days before the start of the special operation, photos of Russian soldiers sleeping on the floor of a rural railway station in the Belgorod region appeared on social networks. Human rights activists from the Association for the Promotion of the Protection of the Rights of Military Personnel and Conscripts “Committee of Soldiers' Mothers” they wrote that the military have been living in such conditions for five days already and are eating at their own expense and what the locals treat them to.
Among those who organized help for the soldiers in the rear and on the front line, Alexei from Belgorod. The Telegram chat, in which he collects donations for soldiers, has over 10,000 members. Before starting a conversation, Alexei asks to turn off the phone. He works, according to him, with the military directly, they call and say what is needed. «Soap, socks, shorts, shaving accessories, berets, warm clothes, medicines»,— he lists what they bring to the military almost every day.
“You have been under fire for three days. Aid column was bombed— you will not wait until a week later for the next column, — explains another volunteer Vladimir. He also came to the meeting and introduced himself as a pensioner of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “But you won’t wear socks and shorts for a month?” he says. Aleksey coordinates only one of the groups of volunteers working in the Belgorod region. There are many such groups here, they all arose spontaneously, people help in any way they can. At the end of February— In early March, when it was cold, some Belgorod residents went to cut wood for the soldiers.
On the third floor, in the back room of the Belgorod Palace of Culture, there is a meeting of the Kharkov community, local volunteers and donors from Moscow. People came from the capital to find out what they need on the spot. This team collects and carries aid already, as they say, “by the ribbon”, to the “liberated territories”. The supply problem in the border area has not been resolved for almost three months, one of the volunteers Vlad reports. “In terms of food” someone has a shaft, others have nothing at all,»,— he says. The audience knows about the problem, but is still annoyed. Vlad has just returned from Izyum, which was occupied by Russian troops, and tells about the situation of the civilian population there. Normal picture— lack of water, food, medicines. “There is no electricity anywhere, now they have started to pull wires,” — he says. The audience discusses that it would be good to get a list of what is needed from the newly appointed acting. Mayor of Izyum Vladislav Sokolov— On the eve of their meeting, he was in Belgorod, they say, and before that he had traveled to Moscow.
“If these businesses go under, then I will go under.” p>
Andrey Malikov— local entrepreneur. He founded the Steelbox company, which is engaged in the production of metal structures. He also has his own plant in the region. Malikov characterizes himself as though a critic of the state, but a patriot, “who criticizes from the standpoint of state interests and despises propagandists, because they care about themselves, and not about the country.” “If I lived in Ukraine, I would” drown ” for Ukraine, but I am Russian»,— he explains his position. His enterprise was not involved in work for the defense industry, but, according to him, he himself helped to repair tanks.
His business benefited from falling metal prices, he says. In 2020, raw material prices soared by almost 60%, says Malikov, and at the peak, a ton of galvanized metal sheet cost 160,000 rubles. It was expensive for domestic producers to buy metal. Now, due to sanctions, the price of metal on the domestic market has fallen to 95 thousand rubles, Malikov continues, and domestic production has again become profitable. But, he continues, there are nuances. The frames that he produces are used in the construction of agricultural buildings, hangars, offices and so on. “My customer— with a capital of 30 million,— he says.— If these businesses go to the bottom, then I will go to the bottom.
Leonid Kostyuk, the owner of Agentman, a company that sells suits, has halved its profits compared to last year. According to him, if it were not for sales in the Voronezh and Volgograd regions, it is not known what would happen to the business. In the first 2-3 weeks after the start of the special operation, they could not buy costumes at all. «Main Supplier— Turkey. And they sell all goods in dollars, respectively, it was impossible to either buy dollars or send these dollars,— he says.— We looked at Russian manufacturers, but we do not have our own costume fabrics or accessories. In principle, this market is very dependent on imports for us.
However, soon the situation with the import of suits more or less stabilized, ways were found to buy them, he says,— they began to take them at a premium from large Russian companies, who brought the volumes in advance. But demand has fallen sharply, primarily in the Belgorod region. “Because Belgorod is now in a state of incomprehension of what will happen next. We are now in the season, preparing for graduations, holidays, and it is not clear whether they were allowed to be held at all. And the same goes for weddings. People are worried. In Voronezh and Volgograd it is better [for sale], because people there do not feel the echo of the military operation, — says Kostyuk.
He says he did not feel any support from the local authorities. «The only— the acquiring rate fell to 1%. But this is from federal measures. And we did not expect anything from the locals, except for the New Opportunities competition, but it is only for new entrepreneurs. As loans were not available, they remained. I don't see the 15% rate as an unprecedented measure [of support]. We did not receive anything, we did not fall into any category that would receive benefits. Although we are a small business, we work on the ground, we have an atelier, but we didn’t get anywhere. In the Belgorod region, they are not at all interested in the development of small business, — Kostyuk says. A native of Ukrainian Chernihiv, where his parents are buried, he supports the special operation— if the management made such a decision, it means that there were no other options.
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