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Assailants kill 11 troops and injure 15 at training ground, Russia says

Russian conscripts attend training at a shooting range near Donetsk, Ukraine, on Oct 5. (Alessandro Guerra/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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At least 11 people were killed and 15 injured in a shooting Saturday at a military training base in the Belgorod region of Russia, which serves as a staging ground for the war in Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry reported.

The ministry said the victims were volunteers “who expressed a desire to participate in a special operation,” a Kremlin-preferred term for the war.

“Two citizens of one of the CIS countries committed a terrorist act at the training ground of the Western Military District in the Belgorod Region,” the Tass state news agency reported, citing the ministry’s readout. CIS is the Commonwealth of Independent States, a union of Russia, Belarus, Moldova and several Central Asian countries.

“The two terrorists were killed by return fire,” the statement read. It’s unclear whether the gunmen were among soldiers or had broken into the training ground.

Baza, a Telegram channel with links to law enforcement, said the shooting happened Saturday morning at the military training ground in the Valuysky district, about nine miles from the Ukrainian border.

The shooting comes amid a widely unpopular mobilization drive that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced three weeks ago in hopes of replenishing the ranks of depleted and exhausted units and turning around the stalling Russian war.

On Friday, Putin said 222,000 people have been called up, and 33,000 have been deployed to military units for subsequent combat missions. The Russian military said it is looking to recruit 300,000 new soldiers in total, though human rights groups have expressed concern that the actual number might be significantly higher.

The partial mobilization announcement triggered protests and a mass exodus of fighting-age men and their families, with hundreds of thousands fleeing Russia. Most went to neighboring Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan, the few destinations still available to Russian nationals after the European Union essentially shut its border with the country.

Putin declared that all mobilized men must receive combat training before being sent to the front lines, but there has been a torrent of reports from lawyers, activists and human rights groups that elderly, medically unfit or otherwise exempt men have been called up and sometimes sent into battle with little to no military experience.

Others said they were forced to spend their own money to buy protective gear because their military units could not fully supply the draftees with adequate equipment.

Gunman attacks Russian military recruiter as thousands flee mobilization

The drive to aid a flagging campaign in Ukraine has been marked by at least one shooting at an enlistment office as well as violent altercations in military units that saw some newly designated soldiers killed even before they got to the trenches.

In late September, just a few days after mobilization was announced, a gunman shot an enlistment officer in a small town in the Irkutsk region. Russian media reported that the suspect, Ruslan Zinin, was in distress after he lost a friend in Ukraine in March and his cousin received a mobilization notice in September.

Russians rebel as Putin drafts more people in battle for Ukraine

The chaos of the mobilization effort has drawn criticism from pro-Kremlin state TV propagandists and military bloggers who have huge audiences. Under pressure, regional authorities acknowledged some mistakes, mainly blaming them on enlistment offices and outdated databases. Speaking Friday, Putin said the “quality of the mobilization effort” must be improved.

Some recently mobilized soldiers have already died in Ukraine. The first official acknowledgment came from the Chelyabinsk region near the Ural Mountains, where the governor’s office said in a statement that five residents were killed in combat.

On Thursday, a journalist with the RT network — whose editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, has championed the invasion of Ukraine — wrote that a friend, a 28-year-old official in the Moscow government, Alexey Martynov, died in Ukraine two weeks after he received the summons.

“He was mobilized on September 23. … Zero combat experience,” the journalist, Natalya Loseva, wrote in a Telegram post. “He was sent to the front just a few days later and died heroically on October 10.”