The Ukrainian army has confirmed it was behind an attack which blew up an ammunition depot in the annexed Crimean peninsula on Saturday.
"The strike on military installations in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea was carried out by Ukrainian forces," an army source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack blew up an ammunition depot, sparking evacuations on the Moscow-annexed peninsula and halting rail traffic, just five days after drones damaged Russia's symbolic bridge across the Kerch Strait.
Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, has been targeted by Kyiv throughout Moscow's 17-month long Ukraine offensive but has come under more intense, increased attacks in recent weeks.
In a counteroffensive launched to retake lands lost to Moscow, Kyiv has increasingly made clear – despite some Western unease – that it aims to also take back the Black Sea peninsula.
"The goal is to return Crimea," Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said, according to a transcript published by his office Saturday of a speech addressing the Aspen Security Forum Friday.
He said Kyiv considers the Crimea bridge – opened by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in 2018 – as an "enemy object" and wants it to be "neutralised".
Less than 24 hours later, the Moscow-installed head of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov, said an "enemy" drone had detonated an ammunition depot. "As a result of an attack by an enemy drone on the Krasnogvardeisky district, an ammunition depot detonated," Aksyonov said on Telegram, referring to an area that lies inland at the centre of Crimea.
He did not specify exactly where it hit and ordered the evacuation of people living within five kilometres of the zone, without saying how many residents would be moved.
Aksyonov reported no casualties and claimed there was little damage, but unverified videos on social media showed billowing smoke rising into the air.
He also said rail traffic will be stopped on the peninsula: "To minimise risks, it was also decided to halt rail traffic on Crimean railways."
Authorities later said that two trains going from Moscow to Crimea's main city of Simferopol and one in the opposite direction had been stopped.
Road traffic across the Crimea bridge – one of the few ways to get out of Crimea as flights have been cancelled during the conflict – only resumed Saturday after a Ukrainian attack damaged the bridge Tuesday, killing two people.
The attacks on Crimea have come as many of Kyiv's Western allies feel uncomfortable about Ukrainian ambitions to take back the annexed land, fearing a larger scale conflict with Russia.
They have also signified a sharp escalation in the Black Sea area, with Russia this week exiting the landmark grain deal that allowed the safe passage of cargo ships and saying it would consider vessels destined for Ukraine as potential military targets.
Ukraine has also warned that it may consider vessels heading to Russian ports as "carrying military cargo."
In his speech, Zelensky warned that Moscow "believes that the Black Sea is purely Russian."
He said Kyiv was "looking for a way out" to find a new grain corridor after Moscow exited the deal and that it was talking to other Black Sea countries such as Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.
Kyiv has called on the United Nations and neighbouring countries to secure safe passage for cargoes through joint patrols.
The Russian army on Friday carried out live fire exercises in the Black Sea, with the UN warning against escalation.
On the battlefield, Moscow's forces said Saturday that they had pushed back three Ukrainian attacks in the eastern villages of Urozhayniy and Priyutniy.
Russia also alleged that Kyiv had used notorious cluster munitions on the Russian border village of Zhuravlevka, two weeks after the US was criticised for sending the controversial weapons to Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden faced fierce criticism from his own allies earlier this month for sending the munitions – that can have long-term risk to civilians.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said "three cluster munitions from a multiple rocket launcher were fired (by the Ukrainian army) at the village of Zhuravlevka" on Friday.
The small village lies on the border with Ukraine in a region that has seen near daily cross-border attacks for months.
It was the first time Russia reported the weapons were used on its territory. Biden earlier this month said he had made a "very difficult decision" to send the weapons to Kyiv.
Putin has said Moscow had enough cluster munition to answer if Ukraine was to use the weapons.
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