New deadly strike hits Ukraine city after Crimean bridge blast
A Russian missile strike killed at least 13 people in Zaporizhzhia, authorities said on Sunday — the latest deadly attack targeting the southern Ukrainian city, prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to call the bombardment “absolute evil”.
The reports came a day after a key bridge linking Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula was partially destroyed by an explosion, and as the Kremlin replaced its top general amid major battlefield setbacks in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will chair a meeting of his Security Council on Monday in the wake of the bridge attack, the Kremlin told Russian media.
Ukrainian officials said 13 people had died and 49 people, including six children, were in hospital after Russian missiles again hit Zaporizhzhia.
At least 17 people, including a child, died when seven Russian missiles hit the centre of the industrial city earlier this week.
Regional official Oleksandr Starukh posted pictures of heavily damaged apartment blocks on Telegram and said a rescue operation had been launched to find victims under the rubble.
Zelensky denounced the “merciless strikes on peaceful people” and residential buildings as “absolute evil” perpetrated by “savages and terrorists”.
Divers were to inspect the waters beneath the giant Crimea bridge on Sunday, a day after a truck bomb ignited a massive fire on the road and rail link, killing three people.
“We are ordering the examination by divers. They will start work from six in the morning,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin announced.
“First results” of Russia’s inspection of the bridge were due on Sunday, he added.
Russia on Saturday said traffic had resumed over the strategic link, a symbol of the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The 19-kilometre (12-mile) bridge was attacked at dawn on Saturday, sparking celebrations from Ukrainians and others on social media. Dramatic footage showed it burning and a road section plunging into the water.
But Zelensky did not directly mention it in his nightly address and officials made no claim of responsibility.
Following the blast, the bodies of an unidentified man and a woman were pulled out of the water, probably passengers in a car driving near the exploded truck, Moscow said.
Authorities had identified the owner of the truck as a resident of Russia’s southern Krasnodar region and said his home was being searched.
– ‘Emergency situation’ –
The bridge is logistically crucial for Moscow — a vital transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
It is also hugely symbolic. President Vladimir Putin personally inaugurated the structure in 2018 — even driving a truck across it — and Moscow had maintained the link was safe despite the fighting.
While some in Moscow hinted at Ukrainian “terrorism”, Russian state media continued to call it an “emergency situation”.
Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak posted a picture on Twitter of a long section of the bridge half-submerged. “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning,” he wrote.
But in a later statement, he appeared to suggest Moscow had a hand in the blast, noting the truck that detonated “entered the bridge from the Russian side”.
The Kremlin’s spokesman said Putin had ordered a commission to be set up to look into the blast.
Officials in Moscow stopped short of blaming Kyiv but a Russian-installed official in Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals.”
“There is an undisguised terrorist war against us,” Russian ruling party deputy Oleg Morozov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Military analysts said the blast could have a major impact if Moscow saw the need to shift already hard-pressed troops to Crimea from other regions or if it prompted a rush by residents to leave.
Mick Ryan, a retired Australian senior officer now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that even if Ukrainians were not behind the blast, it constituted “a massive influence operation win for Ukraine”.
“It is a demonstration to Russians, and the rest of the world, that Russia’s military cannot protect any of the provinces it recently annexed,” he said on Twitter.
Authorities in Crimea tried to allay fears of food and fuel shortages in the territory, which has been dependent on the Russian mainland since its annexation from Ukraine.
– Moscow appoints new general –
The blast came after lightning territorial gains by Ukraine in the east and south that have undermined the Kremlin’s official annexation of Donetsk, neighbouring Lugansk and the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
After weeks of military setbacks that triggered unprecedented domestic criticism of Russia’s army, Moscow on Saturday announced that a new general — Sergei Surovikin — would take over its forces in Ukraine.
Surovikin previously led Russia’s military in southern Ukraine. He has combat experience from the 1990s conflicts in Tajikistan and Chechnya, as well as, more recently, in Syria.
© Agence France-Presse