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Ukraine war latest: Russian anti-Kremlin militia break into Russia, claim to occupy villages

by The Kyiv Independent news desk March 12, 2024 11:37 PM 9 min read
Russian military volunteers naming themselves as the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps hold a briefing in northern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border, on May 24, 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Getty Images)
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Key developments on March 12:

  • Russian anti-Kremlin militia break into Russia, claim to occupy villages
  • Russian missile attack on Kryvyi Rih kills 3, injures almost 40
  • Fire reported at several Russian oil refineries after alleged Ukrainian drone attack
  • Russia claims it has taken control of Nevelske in Donetsk Oblast
  • Denmark announces new military aid package for Ukraine worth $336 million
  • US announces $300 million defense aid package for Ukraine.

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 (President Vladimir) 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."

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 border towns of Lozovaya Rudka in Belgorod Oblast are 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."

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 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 on March 15-17, 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."

Belgorod incursion: Meet the anti-Kremlin militia behind the attack inside Russia
Editor’s Note: The Kyiv Independent, together with a number of journalists, was taken to a location in northern Ukraine to interview the members of the units that took part in the military operation inside Russia. Not revealing the exact location was the only precondition for the interview. Norther…

Russian missile attack on Kryvyi Rih kills 3, injures almost 40

A Russian attack against the city of Kryvyi Rih in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast on March 12 started a fire in a residential building and killed two women and a man, said Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the city's military administration.

At least three missile hits were recorded in the city, one of which targeted a nine-story building and another hitting the roof of a five-story building.

Rescue operations concluded at around 10 p.m. Almost 40 people were injured, including 10 children, Vilkul said, adding that 17 injured adults and nine children have been hospitalized.

Four wounded are reportedly in serious condition, and one woman is in an extremely critical state. According to Vilkul, nine people have been rescued from the rubble.

The official said that the walls, roofs, windows in residential buildings, and shops had been damaged by the missile attack.

Kryvyi Rih, with a population of around 660,000, is the second most populous city in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. It is the home town of President Volodymyr Zelensky. The city has suffered multiple deadly attacks by Russian forces since the outbreak of the full-scale war.

5 children killed in single attack: ‘We should never forget what Russia did’
Five Ukrainian children were sleeping peacefully in their beds on March 2 when Russia launched the overnight drone attack against their hometown of Odesa that took their lives. Some came from different families but lived in the same apartment building in the southern Ukrainian port city. Instead o…

Fire reported at several Russian oil refineries after alleged Ukrainian drone attack

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 Oblast, said via his official Telegram page.

Kyiv often does not comment on alleged attacks on Russian soil. If attributed to Ukraine, this would be one of the largest attacks conducted against Russia since the start of the full-scale war.

The fire was caused by a drone attack, according to the governor. There were no casualties. Oryol Oblast is located in western Russia approximately 220 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

Authorities in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast reported in the morning of March 12, that several drones hit the Kstovo industrial zone, targeting a facility within an oil refinery. A fire erupted at one of the oil refining units.

Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil company, confirmed to state-owned media agency RIA Novosti that operations at the Lukoil-Nizhegorodnefteorgsintez processing unit were temporarily suspended "due to the incident." Nizhny Novgorod Oblast is located about 400 kilometers east of the Russian capital.

Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported on March 12 that due to an alleged drone attack on the region, seven settlements have been left without electricity.

The Kyiv Independent couldn’t verify any of the claims above.

Russia's Belgorod Oblast borders the Ukrainian oblasts of Sumy, Kharkiv, and Luhansk, and is frequently used to launch attacks against Ukraine.

There have been multiple reports of oil depots catching fire or railways being sabotaged across Russia since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian media: Russian Il-76 military transport plane crashes in central Russia, 15 reportedly killed
The confirmation came after Telegram channels shared videos of a plane on fire in the sky. The 112 Telegram channel claimed that all eight crew members and seven passengers died in the crash.

Russia claims it has taken control of Nevelske in Donetsk Oblast

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on March 12 that its troops had captured the village of Nevelske in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast.

The potential loss of the village, which has not been confirmed by Ukraine, would create the possibility for Russian forces to attack the embattled city of Krasnohorivka, located less than 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) away.

Russia has been slowly advancing on the battlefield, illustrated by its capture of Avdiivka in February. Ukrainian forces have been facing ammunition shortages after months of repelling Russia’s renewed offensive.

Within several days of the loss of Avdiivka, Ukraine's military withdrew from the neighboring villages of Lastochkyne, Severne, and Stepove.

Both Ukrainian and Western officials have attributed the recent military setbacks in part to the ongoing impasse in Congress over U.S. aid to Ukraine, which has stretched into its sixth month.

After 10 years of war, Krasnohorivka in new danger as Russia advances in the east
Editor’s note: Due to fear caused by the tense environment in Krasnohorivka and the possibility of their city being occupied by Russian forces in the future, some subjects interviewed declined to give their last names. KRASNOHORIVKA, DONETSK OBLAST – On the streets of the small industrial city of K…

Denmark announces new military aid package for Ukraine worth $336 million

The Danish Defense Ministry announced on March 12 a new 2.3 billion kroner ($336 million) military aid package for Ukraine.

The package is Denmark's 16th such delivery of military aid since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Denmark last provided a military aid package in February 2024 worth around $247 million.

The newest package contains Caesar self-propelled artillery systems, self-propelled 120-mm mortars, and associated ammunition. The funds will also be used as part of the Czech-led initiative to purchase artillery shells for Ukraine.

"It requires great political and economic will if Europe is to deliver on its ambitions for support for Ukraine. This particularly applies to artillery ammunition," said Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

"With the 16th donation package, we emphasize that we are with Ukraine for the long haul. Their fight for freedom is also Europe's fight, and we cannot afford to let the Ukrainians down now."

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel), which tracks international aid for Ukraine, Denmark is the fourth largest provider of military aid to Ukraine, committing around 8.4 million euros ($9 billion) as of January 2024.

At 2.3% of GDP, Denmark is the second largest provider of military aid in terms of percentage of GDP.

‘Our reserves will run out:’ Ukrainian artillery sounds alarm on Western shell shortage
Hiding beneath sparse winter cover in a crude, muddy ditch, a great steel monster lies in wait for an opportunity to attack. Adorned on either side with painted plus signs, the gun’s huge barrel looks up at the sky over the Bakhmut front line, across which thousands

US announces $300 million defense aid package for Ukraine

The U.S. pledged a defense aid package for Ukraine worth around $300 million, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at a press conference on March 12.

According to Sullivan, the new package was made possible thanks to unanticipated cost savings in contracts that the Pentagon negotiated to replace equipment already sent to Ukraine through previous drawdowns.

U.S. aid to Ukraine has been delayed since autumn 2023, as various versions of a foreign aid bill have been derailed due to border security disagreements.

Most recently, a $95 billion aid package to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan passed in the Senate with bipartisan support, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to bring it to a vote in the House of Representatives.

Johnson is reportedly allowing Republicans who support Ukrainian aid to work on an alternative bill, which is expected to be complete by late March or early April.

The delays led to Washington considering alternative ways of getting assistance to Ukraine, for example, by tapping into the U.S. Army's own funds.

Equipment and weapons shortages have led to recent Russian territorial advances, including the capturing of Avdiivka — a key city near occupied Donetsk — where heavy fighting took place for many months.

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