Massive blast on key bridge linking Crimea to Russia; Moscow says caused by car bomb

Russian news agencies say train oil tanker caught fire; bridge built on Putin’s orders is symbol of illegal occupation of peninsula; serves as key supply route for Russian troops

Screen grab of a video apparently showing a fire on a bridge linking Russia to Crimea, October 8, 2022. (Screen grab; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen grab of a video apparently showing a fire on a bridge linking Russia to Crimea, October 8, 2022. (Screen grab; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A bridge linking Russia to Crimea, a key symbol of Moscow’s annexation, was hit by a massive explosion on Saturday morning which Russian authorities said was caused by a car bomb.

“Today at 6:07 am (0307 GMT) on the road traffic side of the Crimean bridge … a car bomb exploded, setting fire to seven oil tankers being carried by rail to Crimea,” Russian news agencies cited the national anti-terrorism committee as saying.

Russia’s investigative committee said it had “initiated a criminal case in connection with the incident on the Crimean bridge,” adding that “a truck was blown up.”

The committee didn’t immediately apportion blame.

The Kerch Bridge was built by Russia on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin to form a link to Crimea after the 2014 annexation, and was a symbol of Moscow’s illegal occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula.

The bridge served as a key transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

Russian news agencies said a fire had broken out on a train on the bridge and that a fuel tank was ablaze.

“An oil tanker caught fire at the end of a train,” Crimea’s rail service said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Footage circulating on social media apparently showed a large fire.

The authenticity of the images could not be immediately verified. Part of the road section of the bridge appeared to also be damaged.

Russia had maintained the bridge was safe despite the fighting in Ukraine but had threatened Kyiv with reprisals if it was attacked.

In this file photo taken on May 15, 2018, a vehicle drives down the 19 km road-and-rail Crimean Bridge passing over the Kerch Strait and linking southern Russia to the Crimean peninsula (Alexander Nemenov/Pool/AFP)

The reports came hours after a series of explosions rocked the eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv, sending towering plumes of illuminated smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The blasts came hours after Russia concentrated attacks in its increasingly troubled invasion of Ukraine on areas it illegally annexed, while the death toll from earlier missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia rose to 14.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram that the early-morning explosions were the result of missile strikes in the center of the city. He said that the blasts sparked fires at one of the city’s medical institutions and a nonresidential building.

Ukrainian firefighters work among debris following a Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, October 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Putin this week illegally claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory, including the Zaporizhzhia region that is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, whose reactors were shut down last month.

Fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has alarmed the UN’s atomic energy watchdog, which on Friday doubled to four the number of its inspectors monitoring plant safeguards.

An accident there could release 10 times more potentially lethal radiation than the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, in Ukraine 36 years ago, Ukrainian Environmental Protection Minister Ruslan Strilets said Friday.

“The situation with the occupation, shelling, and mining of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants by Russian troops is causing consequences that will have a global character,” Strilets told The Associated Press.

The UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported more trouble at the plant, saying Friday on Twitter that external power had again been cut off to one of Zaporizhzhia’s shutdown reactors, necessitating the use of emergency backup diesel generators to run safety systems.

The city of Zaporizhzhia is located 53 kilometers (33 miles) away from the nuclear plant as a crow flies and remains under Ukrainian control. To cement Russia’s claim to the region, Russian forces bombarded the city with S-300 missiles on Thursday, with more attacks reported Friday.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, rescuers work at the scene of a building damaged by shelling in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, October 6, 2022. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

Ukrainian authorities said the death toll from the strikes on apartment buildings rose to 14 on Friday, while 12 people wounded in the bombardment remained hospitalized.

Missiles also struck the city overnight, wounding one person, Zaporizhzhia Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said. Russia also used Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones there for the first time and damaged two infrastructure facilities, he said.

With its army losing ground to a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east, Russia has deployed unmanned, disposable Iranian-made drones that are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles but still can damage ground targets.

In other Moscow-annexed areas, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported Friday that its forces had repelled Ukrainian advances near the city of Lyman and retaken three villages elsewhere in the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry also claimed that Russian forces had prevented Ukrainian troops from advancing on several villages in the southern Kherson region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Friday that this week alone, his military has recaptured 776 square kilometers (300 square miles) of territory in the east and 29 settlements, including six in the Luhansk region, which Putin has annexed. In total, Ukrainian forces have liberated 2,434 square kilometers (940 square miles) of land and 96 settlements since the beginning of its counteroffensive, he said.

In Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian troops shelled the city of Nikopol overnight, killing one person, wounding another, and damaging buildings, natural gas pipelines and electricity systems, the governor reported. Nikopol lies along the Dnieper River across from Russian-held territory near the nuclear power plant. The city has been shelled frequently for weeks.

The trail of Russia’s devastation and death from areas where its troops retreated became clearer Friday. A report by Ukrainian First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Yevhen Yenin revealed that 530 bodies of civilians have been found in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region since September 7.

The residents killed during the Russian occupation included 257 men, 225 women and 19 children, with 29 people unidentified, Yenin said. Most of the bodies were found in a previously disclosed mass grave in the city of Izium.

In another sign of trouble, reports have surfaced of poor training and few supplies for the new Russian troops. At least two Russian cities — St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod — announced Friday they were canceling their Russian New Year’s and Christmas celebrations and redirecting that money to buy supplies for Russian troops.

Under increasing pressure from his own supporters as well as critics, Putin continued to reshuffle his military’s leadership, replacing the commander of Russia’s eastern military district.

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