The New York Times quoted an unnamed senior Ukrainian military official saying Ukrainian forces were behind the blast. “This was an air base from which planes regularly took off for attacks against our forces in the southern theatre,” the official said.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram: “Today is the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. In Ukraine, Crimean Tatars, Karaites and Krymchaks are considered to be such. Today’s explosions in Novofedorivka are another reminder of who Crimea belongs to. Because it is Ukraine.”
The Washington Post quoted unnamed US officials as saying it appeared Ukrainian forces had carried out a strike using a weapon not provided by the United States.
During the war, Russia has reported numerous fires and explosions at munitions storage sites on its territory near the Ukrainian border, blaming some of them on Ukrainian strikes. Ukrainian authorities have mostly remained mum about the incidents, maintaining an ambiguous stand.
If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts, it would mark the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014. A smaller explosion last month at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol was blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs using a makeshift drone.
Russian warplanes have used the Saki base to strike areas in Ukraine’s south on short notice.
Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov said ambulances and medical helicopters were sent to the base and the area was sealed off within a radius of five kilometres.
One person was killed, according to the regional leader of Crimea, he said. Crimean health authorities said eight people were wounded, one of whom remained hospitalised. Others were treated for cuts from shards of glass and were released.
Officials in Moscow have long warned Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on “decision-making centres” in Kyiv.
Earlier on Tuesday (Ukraine time), Ukrainian officials reported at least three Ukrainian civilians were killed and 23 wounded by Russian shelling in 24 hours, including an attack not far from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
The Russians fired over 120 rockets at the town of Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the plant, Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Several apartment buildings and industrial sites were damaged, he said.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power station, Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, stoking international fears of a catastrophe.
In his nightly video address on Monday (Ukraine time), Zelensky invoked the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. He called for new sanctions against Russia, accusing it of risking another nuclear disaster.
“We are actively informing the world about Russian nuclear blackmail,” he said.
The Kremlin claimed that Ukraine’s military is attacking the plant and urged Western powers to force Kyiv to stop.
A Russian-installed official in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region said an air defence system at the plant would be reinforced in the aftermath of last week’s shelling. Evgeny Balitsky, head of the Kremlin-backed administration, told Russian state TV that power lines and other damaged portions of the plant were restored.
“The plant is operating normally but, of course, with an increased degree of security,” Balitsky said.
The Ukrainians in recent weeks have been mounting counterattacks in Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine while trying to hold off the Kremlin’s forces in the country’s industrial Donbas region in the east.
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