A group of pro-Ukraine Russian fighters involved in recent incursions into Russia's border region of Belgorod said on Sunday they had taken two Russian soldiers captive and offered to exchange them for a meeting with the regional governor.
Meanwhile, Russia's defence ministry said its forces had used artillery to repel the latest in a series of attempted cross-border incursions by the partisans, whom Moscow brands as "terrorists" acting as proxies for Kyiv.
The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps have reported fighting battles in the region in recent days as Kyiv prepares to mount a counteroffensive against Kremlin forces in Ukraine.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
In a video on the Freedom of Russia's Telegram channel, a man identifying himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand the two captives to Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov if he came to meet the fighters in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka before 5 p.m. local time (1400 GMT).
Footage of the captives
The video showed the two captives, one of whom appeared to be injured and was laid out on an operating table.
"Today until 17:00 you have the opportunity to communicate without weapons and take home two Russian citizens, ordinary soldiers whom you and your political leadership sent to the slaughter," read a joint statement posted along with the video.
There was no immediate reaction from Gladkov or Moscow.
Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, says the two groups are "terrorists" acting as proxies for Kyiv.
Ukraine has denied direct involvement in the attacks but has cast them as a consequence of Russia's invasion.
Gladkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces continued to shell his region overnight after two people were killed the previous evening and hundreds of children were evacuated away from the border.
Russian governor says he is ready to meet group keeping soldiers captive
The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, appeared in a video message three hours later, in which he agreed to meet the group if the soldiers were still alive.
"Most likely they (the saboteurs) killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 5-6 p.m - Shebekino checkpoint. I guarantee safety," Gladkov said.
He added that fighting with a group of "Ukrainian saboteurs" was taking place in the town of Novaya Tavolzhanka, near the Ukrainian border, without providing any details.
Russia's defence ministry later said its forces had broken up the group, driving its fighters back into Ukraine.
Ukraine has denied direct involvement in the cross-border attacks but has cast them as a consequence of Russia's invasion.
Gladkov said earlier on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had continued to shell his region overnight after two people were killed the previous evening and hundreds of children were evacuated away from the border.