Tensions were rising in Russian villages bordering the Kharkiv region Thursday as the roar of the Ukraine military’s firepower edged closer to the border.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said residents were wounded when Ukraine shells slammed into one border village, and private houses, farm buildings and power lines in another were partially destroyed. Vyacheslav Gladkov also ordered the evacuation of several villages.
Ukraine has retaken thousands of miles and more than 300 villages and towns this month. The Ukraine Defense Ministry said Russian troops fleeing the Ukraine advance are massing at the Belgorod border, where other Russian troops are keeping them from crossing over.
“They have no communication with the command,” the ministry said in a statement. “There is no supply of food and ammunition.”
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, reporting from Belgorod in recent days, found locals who expressed fear and concern. One schoolteacher said she told students who heard missiles that the sound was only thunder.
Some residents have fled to Belgorod from villages in Ukraine after working for Russian administrations – only to have the Russians abandon the Ukraine towns. Now they fear payback from Ukrainian authorities who view them as traitors.
TURNING POINT IN UKRAINE WAR:As Russia admits defeat in Kharkiv, Ukraine regains land, confidence
Biden to meet relatives of Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan at White House
President Joe Biden will hold separate meetings Friday at the White House with relatives of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan security executive Paul Whelan, the Associated Press reported, citing senior administration officials.
This will be the first in-person contact between the president and family members of the two Americans being held captive in Russia, considered by the U.S. government to be “wrongfully detained.”
The Biden administration said in July that it had made a “substantial proposal” to get them home in a prisoner exchange, but those efforts so far have proved fruitless.
Griner has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty, and has appealed the punishment. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges that he and his family say are false. Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited Moscow this week to discuss their release.
Putin pitches his war in meeting with China’s Xi
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pitched his war and blasted the West in a meeting Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan. Russia has dramatically increased energy sales to China in recent months as Europe purchases declined because of sanctions.
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance created as a counterweight to U.S. influence. The alliance also includes India, Pakistan and four ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia.
Putin said he understood China’s “questions and concerns” regarding the war.
“We highly appreciate the well-balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin said.
Contributing: The Associated Press