Russia announced on Monday that it was fighting a cross-border incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs, which appeared to be one of the largest attacks of its kind since the conflict began 15 months ago.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region, stated that a Ukrainian "sabotage group" had penetrated Russian territory in the Graivoron district, which borders Ukraine, and was being repulsed.
However, according to Ukrainian military intelligence, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, two armed Russian opposition organizations comprised of Russian citizens, were responsible for the attack.
An adviser to the Ukrainian president stated on Twitter that the government of Kyiv was monitoring the situation with interest but "has nothing to do with it."
The Russia Volunteer Corps released video footage allegedly depicting a combatant inspecting a captured armored vehicle on Monday night. Another video allegedly showed combatants operating an armored vehicle on a rural road.
Other videos posted on Russian and Ukrainian social media channels depicted detained Russian servicemen and their identification documents through images and video.
RIA Novosti reported that a spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been informed and that efforts were underway to expel the "saboteurs."
Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod, reported via Telegram that at least eight persons were injured, and three homes and an administrative building were damaged. Gladkov stated in a later briefing broadcast on social media that a significant portion of the local population had fled and that he had instituted a "counter-terrorist operation" that restricts movement and communication.
The Russian security services-affiliated Telegram channel Baza reported signs of combat in three settlements along the main road leading into Russia. According to the "Open Belgorod" Telegram channel, electricity, and water were shut off to several villages.
The Liberty of Russia Legion announced on Twitter that it had "completely liberated" Kozinka. Further east, it was reported that advance units had reached the district center of Graivoron.
"Moving on. Russia will be free!" it wrote.
Ukrainian social media users frequently referred to the "Belgorod People's Republic" - a reference to events in eastern Ukraine in 2014, when Russia-backed militias claiming to rebel against the Kyiv government declared "people's republics" in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. In February 2016, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Bakhmut Battle Rages On
The Kremlin stated that the incursion was intended to divert attention away from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which, after more than nine months of combat, Russian forces claim to have captured in its entirety.
The capture of Bakhmut, according to Moscow, paves the way for further advances in the eastern industrial region known as the Donbas bordering Russia. Ukraine claims that its advance on the flanks of the Russian forces is more significant than its withdrawal from Bakhmut itself and that Russia will need to weaken its lines elsewhere to dispatch reinforcements to hold the shattered city.
There were 25 confrontations on the main sectors of the frontline, with Bakhmut and Maryinka further south remaining the epicenter of fighting, according to a statement released by the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Monday evening.
According to the statement, Russian forces continued offensive actions, including airstrikes on Bakhmut and the village of Ivanivske on its western outskirts. According to the report, at least 12 towns and localities in the region were shelled, including Bakhmut and Ivanivske.
Separately on Bakhmut, Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for the eastern group of Ukrainian forces, told Ukrainian television, "Ukrainian troops have made consistent progress over the past 24 hours, advancing 250-400 meters on the flanks and establishing a foothold. Although these advancements are incremental, it is preferable when they are well-planned."
On Monday, the United Nations expressed concern that Ukraine's Black Sea port of Pivdennyi (Yuzhny) has not received any ships since May 2 in accordance with an agreement permitting the secure export of grain and fertilizer during wartime.