VORONEZH: Bomb craters, shelled homes, shocked residents – the rebellion of a private army has left scars far from the Ukraine front lines in Russia’s farming heartland.

Last weekend, a convoy of mercenaries sped along the M4 motorway from southern Russia towards Moscow with the aim of toppling the country’s military leaders.

In still unexplained circumstances, there were clashes with regular Russian forces in the Voronezh region, part of the Black Earth belt known for its fertile soil.

“We heard a plane… it circled and circled, then a whistle and a boom. Then a second one,” said Lyubov, a nurse at the hospital in the town of Anna.

“Some people’s windows were blown out and the plaster fell from the ceiling in our house outside the town. Everyone was scared,” the 65-year-old said as she waited for a bus in the rain.

Just outside the village, bomb craters surrounded by scorched trees could be seen on the side of the road, where the guardrail had been smashed through.

The leader of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said that his group downed several Russian military aircraft and that two of his men were killed and several injured in clashes.

Prigozhin is now in exile in Belarus after a deal with the Kremlin on Saturday to end his 24-hour insurrection and Russia’s government is at pains to show the crisis is over.

There is still no official death toll or any kind of explanation of what exactly happened in those tense hours.

In the village of Yelizavetovka in another part of the Voronezh region, 19 homes were damaged by fighting.

“There was a firefight and shelling. Thank God it was in the early morning and everyone was sleeping,” said one village resident, who declined to be named.

A local government official then asked AFP reporters to leave the village, saying residents were still “too shaken” to speak and she did not want a “negative” portrayal of the area.

‘The uncertainty remains’

In the regional capital, Voronezh, a fuel depot caught fire during the insurrection.

A video that circulated on social media showed a helicopter flying overhead as the depot’s reservoirs burned and what appeared to be missiles flying past.

The burnt-out oil reservoirs could be seen along one of the city’s main thoroughfares next to a shopping centre.

Local residents spoke of their fear over what happened and many said they had stayed in their homes for the duration.

Several said they were relieved the crisis had been brought to a swift end and praised the Kremlin’s actions.

“We don’t need a war. We don’t need anything here,” said the nurse in Anna.

“I hope to God everything will be ok. I think it will be because we have Putin. I respect him. I just adore him”.

Others said they still did not feel safe and some even expressed support for Prigozhin and his fellow mutineers.

Once seen as a Kremlin ally, Prigozhin before his mutiny had become increasingly critical of Russia’s high command and the conduct of the campaign in Ukraine where his forces spearheaded many assaults.

“Everyone is talking about this in their cars and in their kitchens but they’re afraid to even say something online. You can go to prison for that,” she said.

Inna, a 60-year-old retired psychologist resting on a park bench, said she rushed out to buy food out of fear as soon as she heard about the insurrection.

She said there was “nothing reassuring” about how the crisis was resolved, adding: “The uncertainty remains, there is mistrust about what happened”.

She said there was “some” sympathy towards Wagner among the local population.

Another resident thought Russia’s actions in Ukraine were the root cause behind what happened and said Russian troops should pull out.

“I think Putin is at fault here. He has brought out the darkness in life.”


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