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Crimea ammunition depot blast is work of Ukraine special forces, Ukrainian official says

Aug. 16, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 16, 2022 at 9:37 p.m.

Two people were reportedly injured and infrastructure severely damaged after a major blast rocked an ammunition depot in Russian-occupied Crimea in what the Kremlin called an “act of sabotage.”  (Screenshot/Status 6)
Two people were reportedly injured and infrastructure severely damaged after a major blast rocked an ammunition depot in Russian-occupied Crimea in what the Kremlin called an “act of sabotage.” (Screenshot/Status 6)
By David L. Stern,John Hudson,Annabelle Timsit and Isabelle Khurshudyan Washington Post

Washington Post

KYIV, Ukraine – Two people were reportedly injured and infrastructure severely damaged after a major blast rocked an ammunition depot in Russian-occupied Crimea in what the Kremlin called an “act of sabotage.”

A senior Ukrainian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the explosions were the work of Ukrainian special forces operating deep behind enemy lines – the same forces believed responsible for a powerful attack against a Russian air base in western Crimea last week that signaled a shift in Ukraine’s strategic capabilities.

Russian media also reported Tuesday that Crimean authorities were investigating the possibility of a second attack against a different ammunition depot in south-central Crimea.

Authorities in Crimea, the key Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014, said a fire broke out at a depot near Dzhankoi in northern Crimea early Tuesday, causing the ammunition stored inside to detonate. Unverified social media footage showed multiple thick columns of smoke interspersed with rapid-fire explosions and powerful fireballs, as local officials rushed to the scene and vowed to investigate the incident.

“A military depot was damaged in an act of sabotage in the vicinity of Dzhankoi in the morning of Aug. 16,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

The powerful blasts damaged nearby buildings, power lines and train tracks, and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents, the ministry said, adding that no one was seriously injured. Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-backed head of Crimea, reported two injuries as a result of the blast and declared a regional state of emergency. Work was underway Tuesday to repair local infrastructure.

Ukrainian officials celebrated the blast in statements on social media. “Morning near Dzhankoi began with explosions,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on Twitter, describing the explosions as “demilitarization in action.”

“A reminder: Crimea of normal country is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” he said.

“Operation ‘demilitarization’ in the high-precision style of Ukrainian Armed Forces will continue until the complete de-occupation of Ukrainian territories,” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, said on Twitter. “Our soldiers are the best sponsors of a good mood,” he added. “Crimea is Ukraine.”

Details of how the apparent attack was carried out were not known, and Kyiv did not officially claim responsibility for the blast. But if confirmed, it would be the second successful strike in a week against Russian military targets in Crimea by Ukrainian special forces operating in Russian-occupied territory. A Ukrainian official said they were behind powerful explosions that rocked Saki air base in Crimea last week.

The ambitious attacks on both the military depot and the airbase in Crimea highlighted the strides Ukraine has made in developing its relatively nascent special forces capability, experts there said.

“The development of our special forces is very recent and has resulted from assistance from Western countries,” said Liubov Tsybulska, an adviser to the government in Ukraine and founder of the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security. Tsybulska described the forces as “highly motivated” and unburdened by the country’s legacy of Soviet institutions.

Russian media, citing local residents, also reported Tuesday that clouds of smoke were seen above an air base near Simferopol, in south-central Ukraine. Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing unnamed sources, said authorities were investigating the possibility of a drone attack on a different ammunition depot.

Around midday local time Tuesday, Oleksiy Arestovych, a military adviser to Zelensky, wrote in a Telegram post, “New explosions – at the military airbase in Gvardeisky.”

Ukrainian military leaders hope strikes like the one on Russia’s military depot Tuesday could prove critical to weakening Moscow’s ability to strike in any city across Ukraine, and prevent it from capturing cities such as Mikolaiv and create a corridor to Transnistria.

“Hitting depots and breaking the logistics chain means Moscow won’t be able to bomb us constantly with missile strikes that keep the country in fear, said Tsybulska. “It’s crucial we not allow them to do this.”

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