Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A massive explosion and fire rocked a military depot in Russia-annexed Crimea on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people, the second focus of Ukraine’s war in recent days. has turned to the disputed peninsula.

Russia blamed the blasts at an ammunition storage facility in Myskoye on an “act of sabotage” without naming the perpetrators. Like last week’s explosionsThey speculated that Ukrainian forces may have attacked the peninsula, which Russia has controlled since 2014.

Separately, Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted local residents as saying plumes of black smoke also rose from the air base in Gvardescoye, Crimea.

Ukraine has stopped publicly claiming responsibility for fires or explosions at another air base that destroyed nine Russian planes last week.. If Ukrainian forces were in fact responsible for any of the explosions, they would represent a significant escalation of the war.

In a video posted on social media, thick plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the raging flames in Meskoy and a series of explosions could be heard in the background. The Russian Defense Ministry said the fire at the depot damaged a power plant, power lines, railway tracks and some apartment buildings. A statement said there were “no serious injuries.”

Earlier, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the fire broke out at the transformer substation after a “loud thump sound”, which appeared to be caused by explosions at the depot.

Crimea has great strategic and symbolic importance for Russia and Ukraine. One of the main conditions for ending the fighting is the Kremlin’s demand that Kiev recognize the peninsula as part of Russia, while Ukraine has pledged to expel the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

The district where the bombing took place, Zankoi, is about 50 kilometers (30 mi) from the Russian-held region of Kherson in southern Ukraine, in the north of the peninsula. Kiev has recently mounted attacks on various locations in the region, targeting supply routes and ammunition depots for the Russian military there.

Last week’s explosions at Saki Air Base sent huge flames and plumes of smoke rising over the horizon, sending sunbathers fleeing nearby beaches. Ukrainian officials stressed Tuesday that Crimea — a popular destination for Russian tourists — will not be spared the devastation of war experienced across Ukraine.

Rather than a travel destination, “warehouse explosions in Russian-occupied Crimea and a high risk of death for attackers and thieves,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said on Twitter, though he did not claim any responsibility for the blasts.

Crimea’s regional leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said two people were injured and more than 3,000 people were evacuated from the villages of Myskoye and Azovskoye near Zenkoy after the explosion at the weapons depot. To whom can we credit the wounded?

Due to the damage to railway tracks caused by the explosions, some trains in northern Crimea were diverted to other routes.

The Russian military blamed last week’s explosions at the Saki air base on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but it appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.

Ukrainian officials stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions at the time, scoffing at Russia’s explanation that careless smoking may have ignited the ammunition. Analysts also said the explanation did not make sense and that the Ukrainians could use anti-ship missiles to attack the base.

An intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense said ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet were “taking a highly defensive posture” in waters near Crimea, with ships just out of sight of the coast.

Russia has already lost its flagship Moscow in the Black Sea, and last month Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic Snake Island outpost off Ukraine’s southwest coast. It is important to guarantee sea routes from Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port.

The Russian fleet’s “limited effectiveness undermines Russia’s overall offensive strategy,” the British statement said. “This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, in Donbas, the epicenter of fighting in recent months, Russian shelling killed one civilian and wounded two others, according to Pavlo Kirilenko, the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region.

Russian shelling killed one civilian and wounded nine others in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said. He added that the overnight attack on the city was “one of the biggest shootings in Kharkiv in recent days.”

Officials in the central region of Dnipropetrovsk reported shelling in Nikopol and Krivi Rih districts.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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