A possible long-range Ukrainian missile strike or close-up sabotage attack has destroyed a Russian army ammunition dump in Crimea, forcing major road closures, the evacuation of over 2,000 local residents and set off a massive blaze which occupation authorities expect to burn for at least the next 48 hours, according to news reports on Wednesday, July 19.
A Russian army-operated ammunition storage site and military base close to the Crimean city of Stary Krym detonated in a fiery blast at 4:00 a.m. More than twelve hours later shells and rockets were still exploding as the fire spread and reached them, civilian Telegram channels reported.
Residents of the city of Feodosia, more than 20 kilometers from the site, reported hearing the initial and subsequent blasts.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed “governor” and senior occupation authority official in Ukraine’s Crimea region, in a statement confirmed a major fire was in progress and that “… explosions at a training ground near Stary Krym … caused a fire and … the causes of the fire at the firing range in the Kirovsky district will be established by the investigating authorities.”
No one was hurt in the explosions or subsequent fire, but residents of five adjacent villages will be forcibly evacuated from their homes for safety, because the fire will burn for at least the next two days, he said. In earlier statements Aksyonov had said the evacuation would be limited to four villages and the fire would be extinguished in less than a day.
Video images uploaded by motorists and journalists passing the burning ammunition dump on Wednesday showed flames reaching more than a hundred meters into the sky. The Russian state news agency TASS aired a report showing billowing gray smoke covering much of the horizon. Some detonations triggered mushroom clouds.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov at a Wednesday Kremlin briefing said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on the fire. Like Aksyonov, Peskov did not say how the blaze started. Kremlin-sponsored “military correspondent” Vladimir Rogov had no doubt that “Ukrainian terrorists” were responsible for the inferno.
Ukrainian military news Telegram channels variously suggested Ukrainian military-operated long-range kamikaze drones, UK-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, or special operations soldiers covertly setting explosive charges carried out the spectacular attack. Telegram channels in Crimea seemed to blame the falling wreckage from a Ukrainian drone shot down by Russian air defenses to have touched off the fire. Kyiv officials on Wednesday avoided confirming or denying AFU responsibility.
Stary Krym is some 260-270 kilometers away from the nearest UAF-controlled territory and well outside the range of tactical strike weapons widely used in the war, including the Ukraine-made Hrim or the US-made HIMARS precision-guided missile systems.
Busy night in Ukraine on both sides of the frontline. Russian missile and drone strikes in Odesa and elsewhere. Ukraine struck with a missile one of the biggest Russian ammunition sites at a base in Crimea, forcing authorities to evacuate nearby villages. Video is from Crimea. pic.twitter.com/4Mp2cJ9Po6— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) July 19, 2023
Video from the ammunition dump fire showed artillery rockets flying hundreds of meters, in random directions, before exploding. A statement from Russia’s Interior Ministry said an 82-kilometer stretch of highway between the cities of Feodosia and Bilhorisk was closed to traffic for public safety. The rerouting order will complicate an already difficult travel situation for Crimean motorists, most of them summer holiday makers, following the July 17 Ukrainian attack on the Kerch bridge, which connects Crimea with the Russian mainland.
Russian officials said the Ukrainian military most likely used unmanned surface vessels (USV), so-called kamikaze motor boats, which have low radar profile for the strike which has effectively ended direct motor vehicle traffic between Crimea and Russia’s Rostov region. Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday, July 18 that special operations troops and other units from the AFU participated in the strike, without giving details.
In spite of claims that the attack on the bridge had done little damage, Russian authorities had closed it on Monday and ordered motorists wanting to travel between Crimea and the Russian mainland to take the more than 400-kilometer detour through Russian-occupied regions in southern Ukraine. The July 19 ammunition dump fire and subsequent road closure will extend the detour by another 50 km.
In what was claimed as retaliation for the bridge attack, Russian bombers, naval warships and ground launchers on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 18-19, fired a total of 50 cruise missiles and kamikaze drones, in waves aimed at multiple targets across Ukraine. AFU spokesmen claimed that more than two-thirds of the Russian weapons were shot down.
Ukrainian media on Wednesday said grain and ship handling facilities in the Black Sea resort city of Odesa were worst hit in the Russian strikes which included damage to power infrastructure.
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