Ukraine says 9 Russian warplanes were destroyed in explosions in Crimea

Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukraine said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly series of explosions at an air base in Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, signifying a significant escalation in the war.

Russia denied that any planes were damaged in Tuesday’s blast – or that an attack took place. But satellite photos clearly showed that at least seven fighter jets at the base had blown up and others were likely damaged.

Ukrainian officials did not stop to publicly claim responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker could have set fire to and detonated ammunition at Saki Air Force Base. Analysts also said the explanation is incorrect and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to attack the base.

If Ukrainian forces were indeed responsible for the blast, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site in the Crimean peninsula, taken by the Kremlin from Ukraine in 2014. Russian warplanes have used Saki to attack areas. in the south of Ukraine.

Crimea has enormous strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia has been one of the key preconditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians out of the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

The explosions, which killed one person and injured 14, caused tourists to flee in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the nearby shoreline. Video showed shattered windows and holes in the masonry of some buildings.

A tourist, Natalia Lipovaya, said “the earth was gone from under my feet” after the powerful blast. “I was so scared,” she said.

Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalls hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. “Everything started to fall, collapse,” he said.

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Crimea regional leader Sergei Aksyonov said some 250 residents have moved into temporary housing after dozens of apartment buildings were damaged.

Trying to downplay the explosions, Russian authorities said on Wednesday that all hotels and beaches were untouched on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist destination for many Russians. But videos on social media showed long lines of slow-moving cars on the road to Russia as tourists headed home.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, cryptically said the blasts were either caused by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.

A Ukrainian MP, Oleksandr Zavitnevich, said the airport had been rendered useless. He reported on Facebook that fighter jets, tactical reconnaissance aircraft and military transport aircraft were housed there.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC, taken on Wednesday afternoon, showed about 2 square kilometers (0.75 square miles) of grassland burned at the Saki base. Several craters marked the ground near the asphalt – typically the sign of a powerful explosion. The two runways suffered no visible damage and appeared to be still operational. Some of the jets on the flight line had moved further along the runway, compared with photos taken Tuesday before the blast.

The base has been home to Russia’s 43rd Independent Naval Assault Air Squadron since Moscow took Crimea. The squadron flies Sukhoi Su-24s and Sukhoi Su-30s. The base also includes a number of earth-covered bunkers and hangars around the periphery – mostly used to house ammunition in case of fire. None seemed damaged.

“Officially Kiev has not said anything about it, but unofficially the military recognizes that it was a Ukrainian attack,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

The base is at least 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian position. Zhdanov suggested that Ukrainian forces could have hit it off with Ukrainian or Western-supplied anti-ship missiles that have the necessary range.

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The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it could not independently determine what caused the explosions, but noted that simultaneous detonations at two locations at the base likely preclude an accidental fire, but not sabotage or a missile attack.

It added: “The Kremlin has little reason to accuse Ukraine of carrying out attacks that caused the damage, as such attacks would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems.”

During the war, the Kremlin has reported numerous fires and explosions on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border, with some blamed for Ukrainian attacks. Ukrainian authorities have mostly kept quiet about the incidents, preferring to leave the world guessing.

Neither side has released much information about their own victims. In his overnight video address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed nearly 43,000 Russian soldiers had been killed.

Colin Kahl, the US undersecretary of defense for policy, estimated on Monday that Russian troops suffered up to 80,000 killed and wounded in the fighting. He did not split the figure with an estimate of the number of armed forces killed or a Ukrainian number of casualties.

In other developments, Russian troops shelled areas across Ukraine on Tuesday night, including the central Dnipropetrovsk region, where 13 people were killed, according to the region’s governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

Reznichenko said the Russians fired on the town of Marganets and a nearby village. Dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several administrative buildings were damaged.

“It was a terrible night,” Reznichenko said. “It is very difficult to retrieve bodies from under rubble. We are faced with a vicious enemy who daily engages in terror against our cities and towns.”

In eastern Ukraine, where fighting has been going on for eight years, a Russian attack on the center of the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region has killed seven people, injured six and damaged shops, houses and apartment buildings, sparking fires, Ukrainian officials said. attorney general on Telegram. Bakhmut is a prime target for Russian forces advancing towards regional hubs.

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In the city of Donetsk, controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, a brewery was hit by Ukrainian shelling, killing one and injuring two, the separatist emergency service said. It said the shelling caused a leak of toxic ammonia late Wednesday and warned people to stay indoors and breathe through cotton gauze.

Two residents of the village of Staryi Saltiv in the Kharkiv region in the northeast were killed in Russian shelling on Wednesday, police said.

In the southeast of the country, Moscow forces continued to shell the city of Nikopol across the Dnieper River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling, fueling international fears of catastrophe.

On Wednesday, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized democracies demanded that Russia immediately return full control of the factory to Ukraine. They said they were “deeply concerned” about the risk of a nuclear accident with far-reaching consequences.

The UN Security Council has scheduled an open meeting on Thursday at Russia’s request about what it believes were Ukrainian attacks on the Zaporizhzhya plant. Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who last week said the situation at the plant is “completely out of control,” said the council.


Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer and Michael Biesecker in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


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