KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) – A truck bomb on Saturday caused a fire and the collapse of a section of a bridge linking Russia’s annexed Crimea with Russia, Russian officials said, damaging a key supply artery for Moscow’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine.
The head of the Crimean Kremlin-backed regional parliament immediately accused Ukraine, though the Kremlin did not blame. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly threatened to attack the bridge and some have praised the attack, but Kyiv has stopped short of claiming responsibility.
The bombing came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70, dealing him a humiliating blow that could have put him at stake in his war in Ukraine.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the truck bomb set seven train cars carrying fuel on fire, resulting in “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.”
The 19-kilometre (12-mile) bridge across the Kerch Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov opened in 2018 and is the longest in Europe. The $3.6 billion project is a clear symbol of Moscow’s claim to Crimea and has provided an important link to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The peninsula has symbolic value for Russia and is key to sustaining its military operations in southern Ukraine. If the bridge was rendered inoperable, it would have made it much more challenging to transport supplies to the peninsula. While Russia seized the northern region of Crimea at the start of the invasion and established a land corridor along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine pressed a counterattack to retake it.
The bridge has a rail and car section. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee detailed that the explosion and fire caused the collapse of two sections of one of the two links of the car bridge, while the other link was intact.
Russia’s Energy Ministry said Crimea had enough fuel for 15 days, adding that it was looking at ways to replenish stocks.
Authorities suspended passenger train traffic across the bridge until further notice. Putin was notified of the explosion and he ordered the formation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.
The speaker of the Kremlin-backed Crimean region’s parliament blamed Ukraine for the blast, but played down the extent of the damage and said the bridge would soon be repaired.
“Now they have something to be proud of: over 23 years of their management, they have not managed to build anything worthy of attention in Crimea, but they have managed to spoil the surface of the Russian bridge,” Vladimir Konstantinov, Chairman of the Republican State Council, wrote on Telegram.
The parliamentary leader of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party on Saturday stopped short of claiming Kyiv was responsible but appeared to throw it out as a consequence of Moscow’s takeover of Crimea and efforts to integrate the peninsula with mainland Russia.
“Russia’s illegal construction is starting to fall apart and catch fire. The reason is simple: if you build something explosive, it will explode sooner or later,” wrote David Arakhamia, leader of the Servant of the People party, on Telegram.
“And this is just the beginning. Of all things, reliable construction is not something Russia is very famous for,” he said.
Other Ukrainian officials are more celebrating while still not claiming responsibility. The secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, posted a video on Twitter with the Kerch Bridge on fire on the left and a video with Marilyn Monroe singing the famous “Happy Birthday Mr President” on the right.
Zelenskyy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted: “Crimea, bridge, early. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled: ”
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “the reaction of the Kyiv regime to the destruction of civilian infrastructure shows its terrorist nature.”
In August, Russia experienced a series of explosions at air bases and ammunition depots in Crimea, underscoring its vulnerability.
Local authorities in Crimea have made conflicting statements about what the broken bridge means to residents on the peninsula, a popular sun and sea destination for Russian tourists year-round that is home to Sevastopol, the main city and naval base.
Irina Mezavtsova, deputy head of the regional ministry for industrial policy, said there would be no restrictions on sales of consumer products. Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Crimean Kremlin-backed leader, also said on Telegram that the local government had no plans to ration consumer products, and would clarify their policies “soon.”
But Mikhail Razvozhayev, the mayor of Sevastopol, announced that consumers could only buy three kilograms of groceries and banned the sale of fuel in cans in an apparent bid to prevent a shortage of supplies.
At the same time, he tried to pacify the residents, insisting that they were not cut off from the mainland.
“There is a land corridor through the new territory, and the ferry crossing near the Crimean Bridge has already started operations,” he said.
The Russian Association of Tourist Agencies estimates that about 50,000 tourists were on holiday in Crimea when the explosion occurred. The head of Russia’s main tourism agency, Ilya Umansky, told the Interfax agency that the ferry network had relaunched on Saturday between the peninsula and the mainland but acknowledged that those wishing to enter Crimea in the coming days would experience “some inconvenience.”
The explosion on the bridge came hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending plumes of smoke soaring into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.
Ukrainian officials accused Russia of hitting Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with surface-to-air missiles and said at least one person was injured. The attacks targeted mostly the residential neighborhoods of Saltivka and Osnovianskiy, the regional governor, By Sinehubov, said on Telegram.
Sinehubov said Russia had deployed S-300 missiles in the attack. If true, this would mark the latest in a series of instances in which Moscow is reported to have reused weapons originally designed for air defense to attack ground targets, possibly due to a shortage of more suitable ammunition.
Ukrainian authorities in the northern Sumy region, west of Kharkiv and a frequent target of Russian shelling and missile strikes, also reported on Saturday that five towns and villages had been hit overnight. Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, the regional governor, said on Telegram that a 51-year-old civilian man had died.
Russian rockets also hit three cities overlooking the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest. The regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said that no one was injured in the attacks in the towns of Marganets, Chervonohryhorivka and Myrove.
The death toll, meanwhile, from an earlier missile attack on apartment buildings in Zaporizhzhia rose to 17, Ukraine’s emergency services reported.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service wrote on Telegram that 21 people had been rescued from the rubble of the four-story apartment block, and search and rescue work was continuing.
Russian missiles damaged more than 40 apartment buildings Thursday in the Ukrainian-controlled city, which is after all the official capital of the territory Moscow illegally annexed last week. Zaporizhzhia is located opposite the vast reservoir on the Dnieper river from the nuclear plant of the same name, one of the largest in the world.
The deadly attack came hours after Ukraine’s president announced that his military had retaken three more villages in one of four areas claimed by Russia, Moscow’s latest battlefield reversal.
Adam Schreck reporting from Kyiv. Francisco Seco contributed to this report from Kharkiv.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine