Russian soldiers returning or redeploying from Ukraine frequently try to sell looted goods to Belarusians in southern border districts, according to interviews with multiple residents.
The reports from the southeastern Homel region are the latest example of how Moscow has used the region bordering both Ukraine and Russia as a staging ground for troops rotating in and out of Ukraine — and how that’s disrupted Belarusians’ lives.
Last month, residents of Homel, the region’s main city, and other outlying towns reported how corpses of Russian soldiers killed in combat in Ukraine were overwhelming some of the region’s morgues.
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Hospitals were also being filled to capacity with wounded Russian soldiers, and doctors and medical staff were being forced to work exclusively on treating them, according to residents.
In recent days, Ukrainian and Western officials have reported that Russian troops have pulled back from frontline positions close to Kyiv, and redeployed elsewhere, including into Belarus.
One man who lives in Mazyr, a town southwest of Homel, said the skies were filled constantly with Russian planes and helicopters, and Russian troops were constantly trying to sell goods to locals, including diesel fuel from military supplies.
“They take the ‘trophies’ looted from Ukraine and offer to sell them to locals. Refrigerators, household appliances, tires, and whatever comes to hand,” the man, who asked only to use his first name, Ilya, told RFE/RL.
Even before the beginning of the war on February 24, Homel region residents had reported that Russian soldiers — whose units had been deployed to Belarus ostensibly for joint exercises with Belarusian units — regularly sought to sell diesel fuel to locals.
Another Mazyr resident told RFE/RL how there were large groups of Russian soldiers who crowded into the town’s bars and stores, surrounding and harassing people.
The man, who asked to only use his first name, Maksim, said a male acquaintance who had long hair was harassed by soldiers who appeared to be from central Russia or as far away as Siberia.
“They also stink a lot. You can tell by the smell when you go to the store that they are here. After all, I don’t think they bathe,” Maksim said. “The commanders live in normal conditions…. Soldiers live in the woods, in tents and even in barns.”
“The Russians, they behave like they’re masters of the universe,” he said.
In the Brahin district, which is just 20 kilometers from a major road crossing into Ukraine, residents reported lengthy columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Ural troop transport trucks over the past week.
One resident told RFE/RL that Russian soldiers gave him a leaflet in Russian that appeared to be a propaganda effort aimed at justifying the Russian invasion.
“Dear comrades, friends, we do not need war! We are not going to attack and bomb cities. We came to fight not with the Ukrainian people, but with the nationalists, at whose hands peaceful people are dying,” read the leaflet, which was shared with RFE/RL.
In and around Naroulya, a town located on the banks of the Pripyat River, south of Mazyr, residents reported large troop encampments, as well as a field hospital where wounded soldiers were being treated.
Soldiers’ corpses are being sent directly to Russia, they said, either by truck or by train.
“The field hospital is guarded from the outside by Russian soldiers to ensure that no one takes photographs,” said one resident of Narovlya, who asked to remain nameless. “There are lots of helicopters flying very low there. Many of them are circling over [the town].”
Another resident, who also asked not to use his name, said soldiers were buying up all the alcohol in stores.
“Once, a Russian [soldier] grabbed vodka and wine, and then his [bank] card didn’t work. So he went and put everything back,” the person told RFE/RL. “But mostly they just buy everything. And take a lot of vodka.
“Also sneakers, bread rolls, and cigarettes,” he added.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty