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Russian anti-Kremlin militia break into Russia, claim to occupy villages

by Kateryna Denisova and Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 12, 2024 11:48 AM 3 min read
The patches with a white-blue-white flag and the logo of the Free Russia Legion are seen during a briefing in northern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border, on May 24, 2023. (Photo by NurPhoto/Getty Images)
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The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion crossed the border into Russia from Ukraine on March 12 to conduct combat operations, according to the Russian anti-Kremlin armed groups.

The Freedom of Russia Legion later said that it had taken control of the village of Tyotkino in Russia's Kursk Oblast. The legion claimed that Russian forces had fled and abandoned equipment in the process.

According to the spokesperson of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Andrii Yusov, the units are comprised of Russian citizens acting as part of Ukraine’s “security and defense forces.”

“(They are) helping to liberate Ukraine from the Russian invaders,” Yusov said. “But these are citizens of the Russian Federation, and at home (in Russia) they have the right to do whatever they think is necessary in this situation to protect their civil rights and free their country from the Russian Putin dictatorship.”

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that it “thwarted Kyiv’s attempt to make a breakthrough into the Russian border territory in the Belgorod and Kursk oblasts,” adding that the incursion took place “simultaneously in three directions.”

The ministry did not refer directly to the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion, saying only that the “Ukrainian terrorists who tried to break into Russian territory were struck by aviation, missile forces, and artillery.”

Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the Russian parliament and now living in exile in Ukraine, claimed that the Russian militia groups entered Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk oblasts for a “joint operation.”

“The border towns of Lozovaya Rudka in Belgorod Oblast is fully under the control of the liberation forces,” he said on Facebook. “In Tyotkino in Kursk Oblast, a small arms battle is underway at the moment.”

What we know about ‘Siberian Battalion’ that reportedly crossed into Russia?
Editor’s Note: The Kyiv Independent doesn’t provide the full names of soldiers mentioned in the story to protect them and their families from persecution in Russia. They are identified by callsigns. KYIV OBLAST – In the early hours of March 12, Russian state media sounded the alarm. A number of Ukr…

The Freedom of Russia Legion later published a video purporting to show the unit operating in Tyotkino, claiming to have destroyed a Russian armored personnel carrier in the village.

The Kyiv Independent could not verify Ponomarev’s claim or the armed group’s alleged footage.

Both the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion posted videos on their social media platforms purporting to show their respective groups operating in Russia.

“Like all our fellow citizens, in the Legion we dream of a Russia freed from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s dictatorship,” the Freedom of Russia Legion wrote on Twitter.

“But we don’t just dream: we work hard to realize those dreams. We will take back our land centimeter by centimeter from the regime. Russians will sleep well, will not be afraid of the doorbell, and will not be afraid to say what they think. Russians will vote for whom they want, not for whom they have to. Russians will live freely.”

The Siberian Battalion urged Russians via social media to ignore the Russian presidential elections, which are set to take place in mid-March, calling the ballots and polling stations “fiction.”

This is not the first incursion into Russia from Ukraine by Russian anti-Kremlin armed groups.

The Freedom of Russia Legion crossed into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast in May 2023, which Yusov said was to “liberate these territories from Putin’s regime and push back the enemy to create a certain zone for protecting Ukrainian civilians.”

Fire reported at several Russian oil refineries following drone attacks
A fire broke out at an oil refinery in Russia’s city of Oryol, regional authorities reported on March 12. First responders have been deployed to the scene, Andrey Klychkov, governor of Oryol region, said via his official Telegram page.
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