Ukraine: Russian strikes kill at least 12 after bridge explosion
A barrage of Russian missiles that destroyed apartment buildings and homes in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia has killed at least a dozen people, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday as Moscow scrambled to impose its takeover of an illegally annexed territory.
The explosions that collapsed at least one high-rise residential building and blew out the windows of others came from six missiles launched into Russian-occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian Air Force said. The region is one of four that Russia claims as its own this month, but the regional capital remains under Ukrainian control.
Immediately after the strikes, the city council said 17 had been killed, but later revised that figure to 12. Regional police reported on Sunday afternoon that 13 had been killed and more than 60 injured, including at least 10 children .
The multiple strikes came after an explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean peninsula to Russia. The attack on the Kerch Bridge damaged an important supply route for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in Ukraine and a towering symbol of Russian power in the region.
Stunned residents watched behind the police tape as emergency crews tried to reach the upper floors of a building which was directly hit. The attack collapsed several floors, leaving a smoking chasm at least 40 feet wide where the apartments used to be. Several hours later, the upper floors also collapsed.
In an adjacent building, the barrage blew windows and doors out of their frames within a radius of hundreds of feet. At least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings in total were damaged and at least 40 people were hospitalized, city council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said.
Zaporizhzhia resident Mucola Markovich, 76, said he and his wife were hiding under a blanket when they heard rockets and explosions coming from explosions. “There was an explosion, then another,” he said. Then, in a flash, their fourth-floor apartment was gone, Markovich said, holding back tears.
“When it will be rebuilt, I don’t know,” he said. “I find myself without an apartment at the end of my life.”
Russian officials did not immediately comment on the strikes. Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Zaporizhzhia region last week, Russia has repeatedly bombed the city of the same name. At least 19 people died on Thursday when Russian missiles fired at apartment buildings in the city.
“Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegram post.
“Absolute wickedness. Absolute evil. … From him who gave this order, to all who carried out this order: they will answer. They must. Before the law and the people,” he added.
Tetyana Lazunko, 73, and her husband, Oleksii, took refuge in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after first hearing air raid sirens and then an explosion that rocked the building and sent their possessions flying.
Lazunko wept inconsolably as the couple surveyed the damage to their home since 1974, wondering why an area with no military infrastructure in sight was being targeted.
“Why are they bombing us. Why?” she says.
As Russia targeted Zaporizhzhia ahead of Saturday’s explosion on the Crimean Bridge, the attack on the 12-mile-long span was a blow to Moscow. Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 following a hastily organized local vote, a move that resulted in US and EU sanctions.
Putin personally opened the $3.7 million Kerch Bridge in May 2018 by driving a truck over it, a symbol of Moscow’s claims over Crimea. The bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to support Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.
The Crimean Peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and is home to a Russian naval base. A Russian tourist association estimated that 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on Saturday.
Putin on Saturday evening signed a decree strengthening the security of the bridge and energy infrastructure between Crimea and Russia, and tasked Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, with the effort.
Some Russian lawmakers have called on Putin to declare an “anti-terrorist operation,” rather than the term “special military operation” that downplayed the scale of the fighting for ordinary Russians.
Hours after the explosion, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Air Force Chief General Sergei Surovikin would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine. Surovikin, who this summer was put in charge of troops in southern Ukraine, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.
No one has claimed responsibility for damaging the bridge. Zelenskyy, in a video address, indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack but did not address its cause.
“Today was not a bad and rather sunny day in the territory of our state,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Even though it was also hot.”
Rail and car traffic on the bridge has been temporarily suspended. Car traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact, the flow alternating in each direction, said the head of Crimea supported by Russia, Sergei Aksyonov.
Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Telegram on Sunday that passenger train traffic between Crimea and the Russian mainland had resumed overnight “according to schedule”. In a separate Telegram post on Sunday, the ministry said car ferries were also operating between Crimea and the mainland.
The Institute for the Study of Warfare, a Washington-based think tank, said videos from the bridge indicated damage from the blast “is likely to increase friction in Russian logistics for some time.” time,” but do not cripple Russia’s ability to equip its troops in Ukraine. .
“The collapsed lane of the highway bridge will limit Russian military movements until it is repaired, forcing some Russian forces to rely on the ferry link for some time,” the institute said. “Russian forces will probably still be able to transport heavy military equipment via the railway.”
As Russia seized areas north of Crimea at the start of its invasion of Ukraine and built a land corridor there along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is launching a counter-offensive to recover this territory and other parts of Ukraine illegally annexed by Putin this month.
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday morning that heavy clashes were taking place around the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern region of Donetsk, where Russian forces have recently claimed territorial gains.
In its regular social media update, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not acknowledge any loss of territory but said that “the most tense situation” on the whole of Ukrainian territory had been observed. around the two towns.
The regional governor of Zaporizhzhia reported that the death toll rose to 32 after Russian missiles struck a civilian convoy leaving the city on September 30. In a Telegram article, Oleksandr Starukh that another person died in hospital on Friday.
Part of the Zaporizhzhia region currently under Russian control is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The fighting has repeatedly endangered the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and Ukrainian authorities shut down its last operating reactor last month to avert a radioactive disaster.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said on Saturday that the Zaporizhzhia power plant had since lost its last external power source following further bombardment and was s now relied on backup diesel generators.
Schreck reported from Kyiv.
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