A week after an apparent Ukrainian attack on a Russian military base in occupied Crimea, an arms store on another depot has been hit by a series of explosions.
Crimea is a peninsula in Eastern Europe, situated along the northern coast of the Black Sea, with a population of 2.4 million, made up mostly of ethnic Russians with significant Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar minorities, among others.
In 2014 Crimea saw intense demonstrations against the removal of the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych culminating in pro-Russian forces occupying strategic points before the Republic of Crimea declared independence from Ukraine following a disputed referendum supporting reunification.
Russia soon formally annexed Crimea although most of the world recognizes Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Russian officials said a fire triggered the massive explosions in the Dzhankoi area – before later blaming “sabotage” for destruction at the military depot in Russia-annexed Crimea, which forced the evacuation of more than 3,000 people on Tuesday, the second time in recent days that the Ukraine war’s focus has turned to the peninsula.
A separate fire broke out at a power substation and a railway was damaged, after a string of blasts last week destroyed Russian warplanes at a Black Sea base on the Crimean coast.
Ukraine has never publicly admitted that attack – but presidential office adviser Mykhailo Podolyak described the latest incident as “demilitarization in action”—indicating that the explosions were not accidental.
A Crimean Tatar leader, Refat Chubarov, called the explosions a “hit” that could be heard “far across the steppe”.
The Kremlin blamed saboteurs for orchestrating the series of explosions, a rare admission that armed groups loyal to Ukraine are damaging military logistics and supply lines on territory it controls in Russian-annexed Crimea.
Russian military officials published a statement saying that nobody had been seriously injured in the explosions, which had also damaged power lines, an electricity substation, and railway infrastructure, along with some residential housing in northern Crimea.
Footage on Russian state TV showed an electricity substation on fire near the town of Dzhankoi in Crimea and a series of large explosions on the horizon which authorities said were caused by ammunition detonating at a military base.
“Melitopol is the only land corridor to Crimea. No Melitopol – no Crimea! Meanwhile, the evacuation of the population has begun near Dzhankoi due to the detonation of ammunition,” said Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol. “No one will have time to hide. And there will soon be nowhere to retreat!”
“I gave the command – now the 5-kilometre zone is cordoned off, the taking out of all people who are in the 5-kilometre zone is underway… About two thousand people have been evacuated from the emergency zone in the Dzhankoi district,” said Sergey Aksyonov, Russia’s puppet governor and the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of occupied Crimea.
“The Russian occupiers and colonizers are already fleeing Crimea. Today, after yet another Russian negligence in terms of handling the ammunition, it detonated in the Dzhankoy district. People are hiding in basements. There are huge queues to leave Crimea,” according to Tamila Tasheva, Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Tasheva emphasized that Ukraine will definitely liberate Crimea, “using all possible and non-prohibited mechanisms for struggle”, and called on the people living on the peninsula to be careful, to hide in equipped places or their basements.