No Ukrainian soldier entered Russia's territory during a combat operation in the Belgorod region conducted by armed Russian anti-government groups who claim to be fighting on Ukraine's side, the New York Times wrote, citing a senior Ukrainian official.
According to the unnamed official, Ukraine's military played an auxiliary role in the May 22 incursion, protecting the border with Russia's Belgorod region in case of a Russian counterattack.
The Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed responsibility for fighting within Russia and taking hold of Russian villages near the Ukrainian border.
Meanwhile, Russian governor Vyacheslav Gladkov claimed that the Belgorod region was attacked by a "large number" of drones on May 23.
He said on Telegram that nine people were hospitalized and power lines were damaged in the Grayvoron district as a result of alleged fighting with the anti-Kremlin groups. Gladkov added that security forces were still "clearing" the territory, after which evacuated residents could return home.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on May 23 they had defeated the "Ukrainian formations," claiming to have "killed 70 combatants" and destroyed four armored combat vehicles and five trucks while "driving the remaining formations from Belgorod Oblast back into Ukrainian territory."
However, the Russian Volunteer Corps denied these claims. The Ukrainian official, who spoke anonymously, told the NYT that the armed groups had suffered losses, but not enough to affect their fighting capacity.
Ukraine's officials have issued mixed statements in response to the reported incursion.
Spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence Andrii Yusov confirmed to Suspilne news outlet on May 22 that the Russian anti-government groups had indeed started a combat operation in Russia's Belgorod Oblast.
Yusov stressed that while the operation aims to create a "safe strip" at the Russo-Ukrainian border, it is conducted "exclusively by Russian citizens." He then told CNN that the units that had crossed the border were "part of defense and security forces" in Ukraine, but "in Russia, they are acting as independent entities."
Mykhailo Podoliak, an advisor to the head of Ukraine's Presidential Office, denied any involvement by Kyiv.