ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called the attack on the sprawling Kerch Bridge to Crimea a “terrorist act” perpetrated by Ukrainian special services and Russia’s chief investigator immediately opened a criminal investigation into the explosion that damaged an important Russian monument.
What Russian authorities call a truck bomb hit the huge bridge connecting Russia to the Crimean peninsula on Saturday, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine eight years ago. Road and rail traffic over the bridge was temporarily halted, damaging an important supply route for Kremlin forces and dealing a severe blow to Russian prestige.
“There is no doubt that this was a terrorist act aimed at destroying civilian infrastructure of crucial importance for the Russian Federation,” Putin said in a video of a meeting Sunday with the president of the Russian Federation. the Russian commission of inquiry, Alexander Bastrykin. “And the perpetrators, perpetrators and those who ordered it are the special services of Ukraine.”
Bastrykin said Ukrainian special services and citizens of Russia and other countries took part in the attack.
“We have already established the route of the truck,” he said, adding that he had visited Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Krasnodar, a region in the south, among other places. of Russia.
The statements followed overnight Russian missile attacks on the city of Zaporizhzhia that destroyed part of a large apartment building, killing at least a dozen people.
All six missiles used in Sunday’s night attack were launched from Russian-occupied areas in the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian Air Force said. The region is one of four that Russia claims as its own this month, although its capital of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
Russia suffered a series of setbacks nearly eight months after invading Ukraine in a campaign many thought would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have staged a counteroffensive, retaking areas to the south and east, while Moscow’s decision to call in more troops has led to protests and an exodus of tens of thousands of Russians .
Recent fighting has focused on areas just north of Crimea, including Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented the latest attack in a Telegram message.
“Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” he wrote. At least 19 people died on Thursday when Russian missiles fired at apartment buildings in the city.
“From the one who gave this order, to all those who carried out this order: they will respond,” he added.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attacks on civilians a war crime and called for an international investigation.
Stunned residents watched behind the police tape as emergency crews tried to reach the upper floors of a building which was directly hit. A sinkhole at least 12 meters (40 feet) wide brooded where apartments once stood. In an adjacent building, the barrage of missiles blew windows and doors out of their frames within a radius of hundreds of feet. At least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings were damaged, city council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said.
Regional police reported Sunday afternoon that 13 people had been killed and more than 60 injured, including at least 10 children.
Tetyana Lazunko, 73, and her husband, Oleksii, took refuge in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after hearing air raid sirens. The explosion shook the building and blew their belongings. Lazunko wept as the couple surveyed the damage to their home for nearly five decades.
“Why are they bombing us? Why ? she says.
Others called the missile attack relentless.
“There was an explosion, then another,” said Mucola Markovich, 76. In a flash, the fourth floor apartment he shared with his wife is gone.
“When it will be rebuilt, I don’t know,” Markovich said. “I find myself without an apartment at the end of my life.”
About 3 kilometers (2 miles) away, in another missile-ravaged neighborhood, three volunteers dug a shallow grave for a German shepherd killed in the strike, the dog’s paw blown off in the blast.
Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst and former Putin speechwriter, said the Russian president, who formed a committee on Saturday to investigate the bridge blast, did not respond forcefully enough to satisfy the hawks angry war. The attack and response, he said, “inspired the opposition, while loyalists are demoralized”.
“Because again, they see that when the authorities say that everything is going as planned and that we are winning, they are lying, and that demoralizes them,” he said.
Putin personally opened the Kerch Bridge in May 2018 by driving a truck over it as a symbol of Moscow’s claims over Crimea. The bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to support Russian military operations in southern Ukraine.
No one has claimed responsibility for damaging it.
Traffic on the bridge was temporarily suspended after the explosion, but cars and trains passed each other again on Sunday. Russia has also restarted a car ferry service.
Crimea is a popular vacation spot for Russians. People trying to get to the bridge and on the Russian mainland on Sunday encountered hour-long traffic jams.
“We weren’t prepared for such a turn,” said one driver, Kirill Suslov, sitting in traffic. “That’s why the mood is a bit dark.”
The Institute for the Study of Warfare said videos from the bridge indicated damage from the blast ‘is likely to increase friction in Russian logistics for some time’, but does not cripple capacity of Russia to equip its troops in Ukraine.
In other news:
– In the devastated Ukrainian town of Lyman, which was recently retaken from a months-long Russian occupation, Ukrainian National Police said authorities had exhumed the first 20 bodies from a mass burial site. Early indications are that around 200 civilians are buried in one location and another grave contains the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Civilians, including children, were buried in individual graves, while servicemen were buried in a 40-meter-long trench, police said.
– The Ukrainian military said on Sunday 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. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not recognize any loss of territory but said that “the most tense situation” had been observed around these two cities.
– The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, had been reconnected to the grid after losing its last external power source early Saturday after a bombardment.