ODESA, Ukraine – After an explosion tore through a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry quickly downplayed the extent of the damage, saying a bomb blast caused no casualties and no casualties. which device is destroyed.
Videos from the scene and reviews by local officials, who declared the state of emergency, tell a very different story, with at least one person killed, more than a dozen injured and hundreds more people have to move into shelters. Officials said more than 60 apartment buildings were damaged, along with 20 shops and other buildings. And in the grounds of the base, after the huge plumes of smoke cleared, one could see the remains of a fighter jet that appeared to have melted into the runway. Satellite images show the crater, burn marks and at least eight destroyed warplanes.
Pictures and reports by local officials on Wednesday contradicted the Kremlin’s earlier account of what happened in Crimea, a strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine. Russia illegally annexed in 2014and argue that the devastation there is far greater than is acknowledged.
If Ukraine’s military and partisans are responsible for the explosions, as a senior Ukrainian official saidit represented not only embarrassment to President Vladimir V. Putin, who often celebrates annexation, but also a challenge to his military’s ability to defend the occupied territory they had painstakingly consolidated for many years.
It remains unclear whether the explosions would hamper Russia’s defenses against a burgeoning counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces to the south. But the massive damage to areas near the explosion, along with satellite images and video of jet debris, suggest significant damage to military assets that will be crucial as Russia tries to trying to hold on to the territories captured in the early days of the war.
The base is home to fighter jets and helicopters that Ukrainian officials say were used to deadly effect in the battle for Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukraine’s military intelligence service has singled out several dozen pilots from the base, which the country accuses of carrying out attacks on civilian areas.
It was difficult to assess the damage to the airbase on Wednesday. A video surfaced after thatverified by The New York Times, shows the flaming nose cone of a fighter jet, its fuselage a shapeless, black mass.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the incident was caused by an explosion of materials reserved for fighter aircraft at the base. The statement made no mention of Ukraine or its military.
Satellite images, collected by the company Planet Labs and reviewed by The New York Times, challenged Russia to explain the damage. The images, taken hours before the explosion and a day after, show not the debris of a single explosion, but what appear to be three large craters from the explosions.
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The image shows at least eight destroyed warplanes, both Su-30 and Su-24 fighters, all parked on the airbase’s runway. Two buildings near the plane were also completely destroyed, with extensive damage and burns visible elsewhere at the base.
Other parts of the airbase are still intact, including several helicopters and a large ammunition depot.
Local officials, trying to explain and deal with the devastation, provided more details about what happened to the base, on Crimea’s west coast. Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of the installation of the Kremlin in the peninsula, said on Wednesday that 252 people had been moved to shelters because of damaged homes. He said on Telegram that at least 62 apartment buildings and 20 commercial buildings were damaged in the explosion.
Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility for the explosions that startled beachgoers at a nearby Black Sea resort. But a senior Ukrainian military official on Wednesday said Ukrainian special forces – along with local fighters loyal to the government in Kyiv – were behind the blast.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss delicate military matters, the senior official would not disclose the type of weapon used in the attack, saying only that “a device specifically for the production of Ukraine was used”.
It is not clear what Ukraine used to cause the explosion. Ukraine possesses very few weapons that can reach the peninsula, other than planes that are in immediate danger of being shot down by heavy Russian air defenses. The airbase, near the city of Novofedorivka, about 200 km from the nearest Ukrainian military position, reduces the possibility of a missile attack.
An attack on a target in Crimea, which Russia has turned during its eight-year occupation into a major military hub, would also represent an expansion of Ukraine’s military reach since the invasion began in 2014. February. Although fighting has raged for weeks in southern Ukraine, including near Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Crimea’s distance and defenses have kept it away from Ukrainian attacks.
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Videos reviewed and verified by The New York Times show a plume of smoke rising from the airbase shortly before at least three explosions: two in rapid succession and a third shortly after. It is not clear from the videos what caused the explosion.
The senior Ukrainian official would not disclose whether local resistance forces, so-called partisans, carried out the attack or assisted Ukrainian military units in targeting the base, as has been the case. in other territories occupied by Russia.
To reach targets deep behind enemy lines, officials say, Ukraine has increasingly turned to using guerrillas in those territories. For example, the parties helped Ukrainian forces target Russian bases and ammunition depots in the Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.
The Ukrainian military and its partisan allies, often coordinated action, managed to strike Russian targets in occupied territory far from the front. Russia has also had attacks within its borders, including a helicopter attack on one fuel depot and firing on another – both locations relatively close to Ukrainian territory.
Ukrainian officials have suggestions for participation during those strikes, but did not publicly claim responsibility. On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it could not “determine the cause of the explosion” in Crimea and asked staff at the base to comply with the smoking ban.
Russia has seek to quell resistance in occupied areas, using fear and propaganda to force Ukrainians to accept Russian documents, currency, and television. In towns and cities in Kherson, Russian-backed authorities arrested hundreds of people and set the stage for referendums on reunification with Russia – such as the event was held in Crimea in 2014denounced by Ukraine and the West as illegal.
Ukraine has been pushing to retake territory in the south in recent weeks, but as fighting intensifies, concerns are raised about the nuclear facility in the region, the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the power plant. the largest nuclear in Europe.
Russian forces have been using the facility for weeks as a base from which to launch attacks, knowing that it is difficult for Ukraine to return fire without threatening the plant’s reactors, according to Ukrainian authorities and independent analysts.
However, fighting seems to be escalating around the facility. During the night, Russian forces fired Grad missiles at the nearby town of Nikopol from across the Dnipro River, killing at least 13 civilians and wounding 11 others, said a Ukrainian military official in the area, Valentyn Reznichenko , said on Telegram on Wednesday.
It is not clear whether the overnight attack came from the site of the nuclear plant. On Saturday, a rocket fire hit a dry fuel storage facility at the plant. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the episode, prompting the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Rafael Mariano Grossi, to express “fear“During the fight.
Based on information provided by Ukraine, Grossi said on Tuesday that there was no immediate threat to nuclear safety as a result of Saturday’s incident. He again called for a UN team of nuclear experts to be allowed to come to the plant as soon as possible to help stabilize the situation.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Odesa, Ukraine, and Alan Yuhas and Christiaan Triebert from New York. Matthew Mpoke Bigg Contribution reports from London.