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Ukraine conflict: Huge blast on Russia’s crossing to Crimea

© SYSTEMFootage of the huge explosion on the Kerch bridge linking Russia and Crimea yesterday morning
Footage of the huge explosion on the Kerch bridge linking Russia and Crimea yesterday morning

A huge explosion caused the partial collapse of the strategically crucial Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea yesterday.

The blast at the crossing, a symbol of Vladimir Putin’s occupation of the southern Ukrainian peninsula, killed three people.

The bridge – one of the longest in Europe – was one of the Russian president’s prestige projects and a vital logistical link for the Russian military.

Russian authorities said a vehicle bomb caused the blast yesterday morning. Video footage on social media showed a fire engulfing the bridge before a section collapsed into the sea but Russia later said it had been able to reopen an undamaged carriageway.

The blast came after Ukrainian officials said two mass burial sites had been found in the recently recaptured eastern town of Lyman after Russian forces retreated.

The Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said one site had around 200 individual graves containing civilian bodies. He said it was unclear how many bodies were buried at the second site but it might contain both soldiers and civilians.

Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of the State Council of the Republic, the speaker of Crimea’s Kremlin-backed regional parliament, blamed Ukraine for the explosion while downplaying the severity of the damage. He said: “Over 23 years of their management, they didn’t manage to build anything worthy of attention in Crimea but they’ve managed to damage the surface of the Russian bridge.”

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge and some lauded the destruction but Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility.

The parliamentary leader of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s party said the attack was a result of the takeover of Crimea. David Arakhamia, the leader of the Servant of the People party, said: “Russian illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, then sooner or later it will explode.”

The bombing came a day after Putin turned 70, triggering fears he could up the stakes in his war on Ukraine. Russian legislators urged him to declare a counterterrorism operation which would see the Kremlin broaden the powers of security agencies, ban rallies, tighten censorship, introduce travel restrictions and expand a partial mobilisation that the president ordered last month.

Russia’s national anti-terrorism committee said a truck bomb set alight seven railway carriages carrying fuel, resulting in a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge”.

A man and a woman who were in a vehicle on the bridge were killed by the explosion and their bodies were recovered, according to Russia’s investigative committee. They did not provide details on the third victim or the truck driver.

The blast occurred even though all vehicles driving across the bridge underwent automatic checks for explosives.

The truck was owned by a resident of the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, Russia’s investigative committee said. It added investigators arrived at his home as part of the inquiry and were looking at the truck’s route and other details.

The 12-mile bridge across the Kerch Strait linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov opened in 2018. The £3.2 billion project was a tangible symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea and has provided an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Crimea is key to Russia’s sustaining its military operations in southern Ukraine. It seized areas north of Crimea early on in the invasion and built a land corridor along the Sea of Azov but Ukraine launched a counter-offensive to reclaim them.

Putin ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency triggered by the explosion. Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said “consequences will be imminent” if Ukraine was responsible.

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party, which is nominally in opposition but votes in line with the Kremlin, said the “terror attack” should serve as a wake-up call.

He added: “The long-overdue measures haven’t been taken yet, the special operation must be turned into a counterterrorist operation.”

Vehicle traffic resumed yesterday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact from the blast, with the flow alternating in each direction and vehicles undergoing a “full inspection procedure,” said Crimea’s Russia-backed regional leader, Sergey Aksyonov.

Rail traffic was resuming slowly. Two passenger trains departed from the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol and headed towards the bridge last night. Passenger ferry links between Crimea and the Russian mainland are being relaunched today.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, has lost its last remaining external power source as a result of renewed shelling and is relying on emergency diesel generators, the UN nuclear watchdog said. The International Atomic Energy Agency said the plant’s link to a 750-kilovolt line was cut at around 1am yesterday.

All six reactors at the power plant were shut down but they still required electricity for cooling and other safety functions.