Russian media also reported on Tuesday that Crimean authorities were investigating the possibility of a second attack on a separate ammunition depot in south-central Crimea.
Authorities in Crimea, a major Black Sea peninsula captured by Russia in 2014, said a fire broke out at a depot near Zankoi in northern Crimea early Tuesday, causing ammunition stored inside to explode. Unverified social media footage showed several dense columns of smoke accompanied by rapid-fire explosions and powerful fireballs, as local officials rushed to the scene and vowed to investigate the incident.
“A military depot was damaged in an act of sabotage in the area of Zankoi on the morning of August 16,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The powerful explosions damaged nearby buildings, power lines and railway tracks and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents, the ministry said. No one was seriously injured. Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-backed head of Crimea, reported two injuries in the blast and declared a regional state of emergency. Repairs to local infrastructure begin on Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials celebrated the explosion in a statement on social media. “The morning began with explosions near Zankoi,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter, describing the blasts as “action in demilitarization.”
“A reminder: a normal country’s Crimea is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Russian-occupied Crimea is a high risk of warehouse explosions and death for attackers and thieves,” he said.
“Operation ‘demilitarization’ in the high-precision style of the Ukrainian armed forces will continue until full control of Ukrainian territories,” Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said. said on Twitter. “Our soldiers are the best sponsors of a good mood,” he added. “Crimea is Ukraine.”
Details of how the attack was carried out are unknown and Kiev has not officially claimed responsibility. But if confirmed, it would be the second successful strike in a week against Russian military targets in Crimea by Ukrainian special forces operating in Russian-held territory. A Ukrainian official said they were behind the powerful explosions at the Saki air base in Crimea last week.
The ambitious attacks, both on military depots and air bases in Crimea, highlighted the progress Ukraine has made in developing the capabilities of its relatively new special forces, experts there said.
“The development of our special forces is very recent and is due to the help of Western countries,” said Lyubov Tsybulska, an adviser to the government in Ukraine and founder of Strategic Communications and Information Security. Tsybulska described the troops as “highly motivated” and unencumbered by the country’s legacy of Soviet institutions.
Russian media, citing local residents, also reported on Tuesday that clouds of smoke were seen at an air base near Simferopol in south-central Ukraine. Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing unnamed sources, said authorities were investigating one possibility. A drone attack on a separate ammunition depot.
Around noon Tuesday local time, Oleksiy Arestovich, Zelensky’s military adviser, wrote Telegram post“New Explosion — At Military Air Base in Gvardeski.”
Ukraine’s military leaders hope that attacks like Tuesday’s attack on Russian military depots could be crucial in weakening Moscow’s ability to attack any city in Ukraine and prevent it from seizing cities like Mykolaiv and creating a corridor to Transnistria.
“Hitting the depot and severing the logistics chain means that Moscow will not be able to bombard us with constant missile attacks that scare the country,” Tsybulska said. “It’s important that we don’t let them do it.”
Timsit reported from France and Khurshudyan from Georgia. Liz Sly and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.