Russian civilians in the city of Belgorod describe the first hours of Saturday’s attack A joint report by Meduza and 7×7


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Barricade tape at the site of a missile strike in Belgorod’s center

On the afternoon of December 30 — one day after Russia launched a massive missile attack on Ukrainian cities — Belgorod, a Russian city not far from Ukraine’s border, experienced its heaviest shelling since the start of the full-scale war. According to the latest data from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry, 21 people have been killed, including three children. Belgorod, like the rest of Russia, was actively preparing for New Year’s celebrations: locals were out shopping, and there were lines in stores and traffic on the streets. The large-scale attack caught the city completely off-guard. Meduza and the independent outlet 7×7 are publishing this joint report on what the first few hours after the attack were like for Belgorod residents.

‘I can’t get to the store, Tanya!’

At around 3 p.m., the shelling started. You could hear the muffled sounds of explosions as air-defense systems shot down incoming missiles. Fragments fell into the city center.

Belgorod residents immediately started saying that “payback has arrived.” The day before, Russia had launched a massive rocket strike across Ukraine, targeting multiple cities. According to the latest data, at least 35 people were killed in the attack, and more than 160 were injured.

Now, the consequences of this “payback” are visible throughout Belgorod’s center. In the city’s Central Park, a burned-out car is still smoldering. Nearby, a man in a coat is smoking.

“Whose car is this?”

“It was mine. Now it’s gone,” the man says calmly but with a nervous smile.

At the park’s exit, several more damaged cars are still burning. People stand in front of the red-and-white barricade tape and record videos. Sirens wail for the first time since the beginning of the war.

An emergency worker near a burned car

Closer to the center, crowds gather. Some loiter by barricade tape near a destroyed café.

“It’s such a shitshow here in the center…” a man says loudly on the phone.

“Tanya, they’ve blocked off the center. I can’t get to the store, Tanya! I’m going to the car. There are military men here, soldiers,” another local says into his phone.

A man in a leather jacket and black hat, who looks like someone from the security forces, approaches the group and asks everyone not to film the aftermath of the attack. Please move away, he says.

“Guys, don’t stir things up, please don’t film. Delete the video,” he tells a group of teenagers.

“We’re not filming. We’re just showing others what not to do,” they reply.

Behind a nearby barrier, at a pedestrian crosswalk, there’s a body on the ground covered with a bright orange tarp.

Russia says at least 21 dead after Ukrainian attack on Belgorod

Russia says at least 21 dead after Ukrainian attack on Belgorod

‘It could’ve easily blasted the place’

On Popov Street, the windows of the “Belgorod” department store and neighboring jewelry shops are shattered. Ambulances and fire trucks are parked nearby. But calm music still emanates from the shopping center. A young man sweeps up the glass fragments with a broom. They crackle and scatter under his feet. A passerby picks up a blackened shard from the ground. There’s another piece like it lying nearby, about a foot and a half long.

An overturned baby stroller lies on the sidewalk, its handle stained with blood.

Suddenly, at exactly 4 p.m., church bells ring out over the sirens, signaling to those on the street that an hour has passed since the shelling.

It’s impossible to get to Cathedral Square, where there’s an ice rink, because of the barricades. Local reports indicated that the largest missile fragments fell on the rink, but the aftermath is no longer visible from a distance.

Almost no one is on a nearby boulevard. An elderly woman eats a bun on a bench. On another street, there are empty buses as if there’s an evacuation underway. A police car speeds by with flashing lights. The air-raid sirens stop after 4 p.m.

Two guys walk down the boulevard, discussing how close the strikes were to their homes.

“It could’ve easily fucking blasted the place. Just 15 more meters [about 50 feet], and there you go,” one says.

In a supermarket parking lot, people load their groceries into their trunks. A woman on the phone says the cosmetics store she was going to with her husband was “bombed out.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s like in Shebekino if it’s like this here,” one of the guys continues the discussion.

“They’re also slamming Valuysky District.”

“Yeah, but you can’t say Belgorod is really being slammed.”

“Right. But it was to be expected.”

Victory Park, several hundred yards from Cathedral Square, is empty. Access to the square itself is also blocked. A police officer in a helmet sympathetically explains to each person how to get around the barriers.

“Go through this courtyard, sir. It’s safer.”

When the shelling began, Belgorod residents suddenly discovered that many shelters were locked. However, an hour and a half after the attack, the shelters were opened. A woman in a blue jacket later found one and took refuge inside.

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‘My life is more important’

It’s beginning to get dark. An elderly woman sits on a bench near an apartment building, a phone in her hand. Behind her is an open basement door.

“Did you hear the shelling?”

“About an hour ago. Didn’t hear it now.”

“I’m talking about what happened an hour ago.”

“Yes, I heard it. I live in this building.”

“Did you go down to the basement?”

“No. I just sat quietly. Didn’t go down anywhere. You know, they’re all Nazis, like they call them. They’ve been waiting and waiting for their moment — and they got it. Those Nazis, the ones from Ukraine.”

“Why did you come outside now?”

“I was cooking, peeling potatoes. Came out to take out the trash — why let it lie around? Came back, sat down for a bit. If something happens, I’ll go to the third floor.”

“Can you get through this courtyard? The square is blocked off.”

“Yes, you can, that way. Take care of yourself, young man. You’ve still got your whole life ahead of you.”

The sounds of sirens from emergency vehicles have quieted down. It’s dark. The streets are nearly deserted. Those who still haven’t returned to their homes walk cautiously — and silently. The body still lies on the crosswalk under the orange tarp.

An ambulance near the bodies of people killed in the attack

A woman with a bloody hand is standing near the central market.

“You need to go to the hospital!” a passerby tells her.

“Why should I go to the hospital? I’m not going to any hospital!” she answers.

A couple hundred feet away, another woman is taking photos of a New Year’s display. In a nearby supermarket, the workers are chatting.

“Are you going to the [holiday] tree on Cathedral Square?” one man asks.

“Screw that. My life is more important,” the woman says.

“Yeah, and it’s still lit up. Like a beacon.”

Russian civilians in the city of Belgorod describe the first hours of Saturday’s attack A joint report by Meduza and 7×7

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