Explosions rock Crimea in suspected Ukrainian attack

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Explosions and fires ripped through an ammunition depot in Russian-annexed Crimea on Tuesday in the second suspected Ukrainian attack on the peninsula in just over a week, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people.

Russia blamed the explosions in the town of Mayskoye on an “act of sabotage” without naming the perpetrators.

Separately, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted local residents as saying plumes of black smoke were also rising over an air base in Crimea’s Gvardeyskoye.

Ukraine stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for any of the explosions, including those that destroyed nine Russian planes at another Crimean air base last week. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has used it to launch attacks against the country in the war that began nearly six months ago.

If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, behind the explosions, it would represent a significant escalation in the war. The Kremlin has demanded that Kyiv recognize Crimea as part of Russia as a condition for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to expel Moscow’s forces from the Black Sea peninsula.

Videos posted on social media showed thick plumes of smoke rising above raging flames in Mayskoye, and a series of explosions could be heard. The Russian Defense Ministry said the fires damaged a power plant, power lines, railway tracks and apartment buildings.

Crimean regional leader Sergei Aksyonov said two people were injured and more than 3,000 were evacuated from two villages.

Crimea is a popular summer destination for Russian tourists, and last week’s explosions at Crimea’s Saki air base sent beachgoers fleeing beaches as flames and plumes of smoke rose over the horizon.

Ukrainian officials warned Tuesday that Crimea would not be spared the ravages of war.

More than a travel destination, “Russian-occupied Crimea is about warehouse explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

Russia blamed last week’s explosions on an accidental detonation of munitions, but satellite photos and other evidence, including scattered blast sites, pointed to a Ukrainian attack, perhaps with anti-ship missiles, according to military analysts.

An intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defense said that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet ships are in an “extremely defensive posture” in the waters off Crimea, with ships barely venturing out of sight from shore.

Russia’s flagship Moskva sank in the Black Sea in April, and last month Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic Snake Island.

The “limited effectiveness of the Russian fleet undermines Russia’s overall invasion strategy,” the British said. “This means Ukraine can divert resources to put pressure on Russian ground forces elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, in Donbas, the industrial sprawl in the east that has been the focus of fighting in recent months, one civilian was killed in Russian shelling and two others were wounded, according to Ukraine’s regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

In Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, one civilian was killed and nine others wounded by Russian shelling, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. He said the overnight attack was “one of the most massive bombardments of Kharkiv in recent days”.

Some good news emerged from the region: a United Nations-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain set off for the famine-stricken Horn of Africa in the first such relief delivery of the war. The shipment was made possible by an internationally brokered deal to release grain trapped in Ukrainian ports by the fighting.

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