Fires and explosions have been reported at military targets inside Russia and Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, in the latest of a string of apparent sabotage missions deep into Russian-held territory.
Two Russian villages were evacuated after a blaze at a munitions depot near the Ukrainian border in Belgorod province. “An ammunition depot caught fire near the village of Timonovo,” less than 50km from the border, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a statement, adding that no casualties were reported.
At least four explosions hit near the major Belbek airbase, north of Sevastopol in the occupied Crimean peninsula. The pro-Russia governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said “there is no damage. No one was hurt.”
Air defences were also activated near Kerch, the city at the Crimean end of a bridge to mainland Russia, which is a strategically vital supply route that many in Ukraine would like to see destroyed. Local media said a Ukrainian drone was shot down.
The Ukrainian defence ministry put out a tongue-in-cheek tweet after footage of fires in Timonovo spread, with the brief message “smoking kills!”. Officials have previously joked that explosions and fires at military targets in occupied Crimea were caused by “careless smokers”.
The overnight incidents on Thursday come soon after devastating explosions at a major airbase and a munitions depot in Crimea. After those attacks, many Russians raced to leave the peninsula, with a record 38,000 cars crossing on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Wednesday that panicking Russians have realised that Crimea is “not a place for them” and hinted more attacks could lie ahead.
He urged Ukrainians to stay away from enemy command posts and logistics bases. “Do not approach the military objects of the Russian army,” he said.
Crimea is a key hub for the Russian invasion and the UK Ministry of Defence said Russia’s military leaders were likely to be “increasingly concerned” about the surge of setbacks there, even if Moscow has dismissed them as local “sabotage”.
Six alleged Islamist extremists were detained on Wednesday, according to Crimea’s Moscow-appointed head, Sergey Aksyonov. It was not clear what relation – if any – those arrested had to the recent attacks.
August 19, 2022 at 04:50AM Emma Graham-Harrison in Kyiv