About 2,500 people have been evacuated in Russia’s Belgorod region after days of Ukrainian shelling and incursions, according to the local governor, underscoring the rapid transformation of parts of the country’s western border into a war zone.
“The conditions are quite difficult,” the governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app on Friday, adding that the evacuated residents were in temporary shelters in sport centers before being transported to regions further inside Russia.
Mr. Gladkov said in later posts that four people in the Belgorod region were killed by artillery shells on Friday, including two women who died after their car was hit near the town of Shebekino, about six miles from the Ukrainian border. A video posted by Russian military correspondents purporting to capture the aftermath showed a cloud of smoke rising near a column of passenger cars. It could not be independently verified.
The number of people evacuating could not be confirmed, but Belgorod residents who have traveled to Shebekino described the agricultural community of 40,000 on Thursday as a ghost town. They said many residents had left without waiting for an official evacuation after sheltering in cellars during hours of bombardment.
Anxiety in the Belgorod region has been rising since two paramilitary groups crossed the border last week and briefly held two villages in another part of the region.
The groups, Free Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps, claimed in separate videos on Friday that they were fighting on the outskirts of Shebekino for the second day. The Russian authorities had said on Thursday that the insurgents had been turned back at the border. On Friday, spokesmen for the Russian Volunteer Corps and Free Russia Legion declined to comment on the Shebekino raid beyond saying the operation was continuing.
Both groups, which operate from Ukraine and are made up of anti-Kremlin Russian citizens, have claimed that they do not attack civilians and only target security installations.
Witnesses described widespread damage in the town, including to residential buildings, on Thursday. Video footage verified by The New York Times showed an apartment block in the town on fire.
The Russian Volunteer Corps on Thursday said that it had hit Shebekino’s police station with a Soviet-designed Grad multiple rocket launcher, an artillery weapon designed to blanket a wide area with explosives.
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.