Military Train Lurched into The Rail Depot at Kursk on a Recent afternoon

The military train lurched into the rail depot at Kursk on a recent afternoon, carrying more snow-dusted main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery, and other heavy weapons to within a few hours’ drive by car of the Ukrainian border.

At the depot, the flatbed railcars parked between heavy containers carrying chemical products, leaving them visible only from a small pedestrian footbridge overhead. There, military police with red armbands kept watch as locals looked on curiously at the latest arrivals in Russia’s vast military buildup.

A recent trip by the Guardian to the Voronezh and Kursk regions in Russia found a hive of barely hidden military activity as Russian troops continued to position themselves for a potential assault on Ukraine, with the latest reports stating that personnel are being transferred and troops are leaving larger depots for forward staging areas just miles from the border.







Controlled by 










Annexed by Russia – 

not recognised by 

international community

200 km

200 miles

As fears grew in the west of a possible Russian military incursion, world leaders on Monday met in a flurry of diplomatic activity: Emmanuel Macron headed to Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden hosted the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in Washington DC and a European delegation was in Kyiv. In the UK, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, announced a further 350 troops to Poland as 1,700 US paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne also arrived in the Nato member amid concerns the Ukraine crisis could spill over.

On the ground in Kursk and Voronezh, which each sit about 100 miles from the border with Ukraine, the heightened Russian military activity has become increasingly impossible to ignore. As jets roared overhead last week during a military training exercise, locals in Shilovo, a district of Voronezh, were stunned to see a Pantsir air defence missile system emerge into a snowy field right next to the local primary school. (The western military district announced that it was just a training exercise.)

In the nearby suburb of Maslovka, months of offloading of tanks, artillery and other equipment at a railway station has put local residents on edge.

“My wife came back from her errands yelling about tanks, tanks, tanks,” said Oleg Romanenko, a mechanic and metal shop worker who lives near a main street in Maslovka, named for the 206th Rifle Division that fought in the second world war. “It is hard to walk outside your home and see this and not think a war could happen. Everyone has thought about it, at least.

Videos have begun surfacing of trains carrying Russian troops toward the front, and flight data suggests that troops from Siberia are also being airlifted towards Ukraine. Near the Kursk rail depot, air force officers cycled through a nearby spa hotel, while national guard military convoys seen as potential follow-on forces have been spotted driving through nearby towns as they make their way toward the border.

Nonetheless, most of the activity points to the grand scope of Russia’s buildup, where an estimated half of the country’s battalion tactical groups has been moved to staging grounds within striking distance of Ukraine, sometimes just dozens of kilometres away from the border. US officials think that Russia has 70% of the necessary military equipment already positionedin order to launch an attack.

All of our red flags or checkboxes have been ticked in the past couple of weeks,” said a researcher from the open-source Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), which has tracked Russian military deployments towards Ukraine. Those include the 200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, which departed its base above the Arctic Circle last month and which may have been the unit whose arrival was observed by the Guardian.

The CIT researcher said their red flags include the movement of airborne troops and national guard troops, and the recent movement of equipment from a large military encampment in the town of Yelnya – he called it an “Oh crap” moment.

“The evidence we have strongly suggests that literally every large ground formation of the Russian armed forces is involved in this,” the researcher said. “That’s literally unprecedented,” at least since the Soviet Union, they added.

Despite the warning signs, some locals in Maslovka still view the buildup with an air of disregard. Videos of tanks and other weaponry arriving at the railway began to emerge in March and since then many have been convinced that the movement of heavy weaponry is just a defensive posture or a ploy in a high-stakes negotiation with the west.

We’ve got used to it here,” said Marina, a pensioner who was waiting at a bus stop off of the main street. She declined to give a surname. “[Troops] arrive and then in a few days they are gone again. Sometimes you see a few men in uniform. But we generally don’t [interfere], don’t ask questions. These are these kinds of times.”

Security has certainly tightened since spring, when a Sky News crew managed to walk on to a new base in the Voronezh region being established for the arriving troops. Now, roads to large encampments in the area have been blocked off, locals said. And CIT researchers said that Russian railways had made it more difficult to track train data, increasing the importance of social media video uploaded to platforms like TikTok.

Several people in Maslovka said there had been informal warnings not to speak with media or outsiders about the buildup or movements of military vehicles. At a local grocery store, a shopkeeper shrugged when asked about the tanks that would have been parked 50 metres from her door a few days earlier. “I don’t know anything about that,” she said pointedly and moved into the back of the store.

The neighbouring region of Kursk, which until recently had seen relatively little military activity, now had “a massive influx of vehicles and personnel,” wrote Konrad Muzyka in an examination of satellite photography of the region taken earlier this month. Videos taken from social media on Monday showed more tanks being transported south of Kursk by rail toward the border.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button