The Russian Volunteers Corps (RDK), one of two pro-Ukrainian militant groups launching attacks in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, claimed on June 5 that Russian authorities had abandoned the border town of Nova Tavolzhanka, leaving RDK fighters in control.
In a video posted by the RDK, at least four fighters are shown on a residential road near the southern outskirts of Nova Tavolzhanka, about a mile from the border of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast. Two fighters face the camera: one holding the blue flag of the RDK while another says the RDK was the only force left in the town. “Since [Governor of Belgorod Oblast Vyacheslav Gladkov] cannot control his territory, we will talk with his leaders, who are in Moscow,” they said, according to a machine translation.
Storyful could not independently confirm the extent of RDK’s control in the town, or if it had been fully abandoned by Russian forces.
That day, Gladkov said pro-Ukrainian forces were continuing artillery and drone attacks on several Russian villages near the border, including Nova Tavolzhanka, where he said 185 strikes were recorded.
A day earlier, Denis Nikitin, commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, in a joint video statement posted on Telegram by the RDK and the second of the two groups, Freedom of Russia Legion, offered to meet Gladkov in Nova Tavolzhanka for talks and a potential handover of two captive Russian soldiers. Later that day, Gladkov posted a video message in which he rejected their offer, claimed that fighting was ongoing in Nova Tavolzhanka, and alleged, without evidence, that the RDK’s Russian captives were likely to have been killed, according to a report from Meduza, an independent Russian news website based in Latvia.
Before Gladkov had responded, the head of the Russian mercenary group PMC Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin – already engaged in an increasingly tense feud with Russian military authorities – told the RDK in a Telegram post that “if no one arrives,” he was willing to send a representative to meet RDK forces and collect the Russian prisoners.
The two militant groups responded to Gladkov several hours later with another video post in which they said the Russian government, represented by Gladkov, had been too “cowardly” to meet them. The Russian prisoners would be transferred to Ukrainian authorities, the groups said.
On June 5, the RDK and Freedom of Russia Legion issued a new proposal, this time to Prigozhin, asking to exchange their Russian captives for Lt Col Roman Venevitin, a commander of the Russian Armed Forces’ 72nd motorized rifle brigade, whom Wagner said they had captured after being fired upon by Russian forces. Credit: Russian Volunteers Corps via Storyful