By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Russian authorities said that a massive explosion involving a truck on Saturday caused a fire and destroyed a section of a bridge linking Russia and Crimea, killing at least three people. The bridge is regarded as a key supply route for Russian troops in southern Ukraine.
The Crimean Bridge—also called Kerch Strait Bridge or Kerch Bridge—is a structure 19 kilometers (12 miles) in length that passes across the Kerch Strait and links southern Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. The Kerch Strait links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
A truck exploded on the bridge around 6 a.m. local time. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee announced that the explosion caused a fire on the parallel rail section, where seven railway cars carrying fuel caught fire. The blast also caused a “partial collapse of two sections of the bridge.”
The Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement that the incident killed at least three people, “presumably the passengers of a car that was driving by the truck that exploded on the bridge.”
‘The bodies of a woman and a man were recovered from the water, their identities are being established,” the statement reads, according to Russian state-owned news agency TASS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed about the explosion and he ordered the creation of a government panel to deal with the emergency.
While the bridge undergoes repair, a ferry service will be provided later on Saturday. Crimea’s Head Sergey Aksyonov said on Telegram, per TASS: “A ferry service is ready to be launched, it will start operating later today. We will announce a timetable later.”
The Crimean Peninsula is key to sustaining Russia’s military operations in the south. If the bridge is made inoperable, it would make it significantly more challenging to ferry supplies to the peninsula. While Russia seized the areas north of Crimea early during the invasion and built a land corridor to it along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counteroffensive to reclaim them.
The explosion on the Crimean Bridge took place hours after multiple explosions early Saturday hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which triggered a series of secondary explosions. The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said that the series of explosions were due to missile strikes aimed at the center of the city, which caused fires at one of Kharkiv’s medical institutions, as well as a nonresidential building. No reports of casualties were noted.
Bridge Explosion Is the ‘Beginning’: Ukraine Official
While no one has yet to explicitly claim public responsibility for the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s aide, Mikhail Podoliak, posted on Twitter saying the explosion is “the beginning.”
“Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” he wrote in English.
Podoliak previously in August threatened the bridge, telling The Guardian that the bridge is “an illegal construction and the main gateway to supply the Russian army in Crimea” and that “such objects should be destroyed.”
Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have also previously stated that Ukraine will use force to retake Crimea.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 after a vast majority of people in Crimea had voted in a referendum in March 2014 to reunite with Russia and secede from Ukraine. The vote took place after anti-Russia, pro-E.U. factions overthrew then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, which wasn’t against Russia, in an armed coup in February 2014.
The referendum was condemned by the United States and the European Union, with the latter saying in a statement (pdf) that the poll was “illegal and illegitimate.” Both the United States and the E.U. issued sanctions in response to the vote.
The Crimean Bridge, a $3.69 billion (230 billion rubles) project, was constructed following the annexation of Crimea. Russia opened the first part of the span to car traffic in May 2018. The parallel bridge for rail traffic opened the following year. Before the bridge’s existence, the Crimean Peninsula could only be reached from Russia by sea or air.
It was Russia’s only land link to the peninsula until Russian forces later seized more Ukrainian territory on the northern end of the Sea of Azov in heavy fighting, particularly around the city of Mariupol, earlier in 2022.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.