Russia: Air Strikes Prompt Closure of Schools and Shops in Belgorod

Authorities in Belgorod, Russia, have shuttered shops and schools following bombardments attributed to Ukraine, resulting in two fatalities, as voting continues in an election widely anticipated to secure Vladimir Putin's re-election.

The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, reported that air defense systems intercepted eight Ukrainian missiles, alleging Ukraine's attempt to disrupt Putin's electoral bid. Students in Belgorod will be absent from school on Monday and Tuesday, while shopping centers will remain closed on Sunday and Monday.

Gladkov disclosed that one casualty occurred in a car park, where a woman was fatally injured while walking her dog with her son, who is currently fighting for his life. Social media imagery depicts the car park engulfed in smoke and flames, highlighting Belgorod's repeated targeting by Kyiv.

Russian defense officials confirmed retaliatory strikes in Ukraine's border areas and the Belgorod and Kursk regions. Additionally, Ukrainian drones reportedly targeted two oil refineries in the Samara region, with one refinery, located in Syzran, being set ablaze. No casualties were reported.

The ongoing election, criticized as neither free nor fair, is poised to extend Putin's tenure by another six years, with his victory considered inevitable due to the absence of credible challengers and the exclusion of candidates who opposed Russia's actions in Ukraine. Notably, Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of Putin, died under suspicious circumstances in custody, sparking allegations of Kremlin involvement, which the government vehemently denies.

Despite accusations of election manipulation, opposition figures have urged supporters to protest at polling stations, challenging the legitimacy of the electoral process. Nevertheless, acts of vandalism have marred voting, including incidents of dye being poured into ballot boxes and polling stations being vandalized with fireworks and arson attempts. Amidst the disruptions, United Russia, the ruling party, reported a significant cyberattack on its website.

Voting, spanning three days across various time zones, commenced on Friday and will conclude on Sunday, with polling stations opening in the easternmost region of Kamchatka and closing in the westernmost Kaliningrad exclave.

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