Russia’s national railroad has started construction of a spur tying in to occupied territory in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region to increase control of the region and improve military logistics, a Ukrainian official said in a Wednesday Telegram statement.

The key link of the rail infrastructure project will be repairs to a bridge near the city Mariupol which – if and when completed – would enable rail shipments from deep inside Russia to frontline depots used by Moscow’s forces, Mariupol Mayor-in-exile Petro Andrushchenko said.

Andrushchenko said work on the damaged railroad bridge, near the village Hranitne, has already begun.

Currently the Kremlin’s only route for rail shipments to forces operating in Ukraine’s south and east is via a vulnerable bridge crossing the Kerch Strait into the occupied Crimea peninsula.

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A truck bomb launched by Ukrainian special operations teams on Oct. 28 2022 halted rail traffic over the bridge for more than four months and, according to reports, weakened bridge support structures sufficiently to prevent full scale use of the bridge by heavily-loaded trains almost a year after the attack. 

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the main rail link in the southern Azov Sea region connecting Russia’s and Ukraine’s railroad networks ran across a bridge near the port city Mariupol. Retreating Ukrainian troops blew it up in March 2022, effectively severing rail connections between south-west Russia and south-east Ukraine.

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The bridge’s demolition forced Russian railroad managers moving trains between Russia’s and Ukraine’s south to re-route traffic via a 400-km. detour crossing the Kerch Bridge and Crimea.

Russian authorities also plan to develop a trunk link connecting the Ukrainian cities Mariupol, Volnovakha and Donetsk with the Russian railroad, so that full-scale freight and passenger traffic can move between Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk region and points in Russia along the route Taganrog-Rostov, Andrushchenko said.

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If completed the line would dramatically reduce rail traffic between Russia and occupied Crimea via the Kerch Bridge, and substantially ease Russian military logistics in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia sectors, he said.

Following the Oct. strike Ukrainian forces have attacked the Kerch Bridge with missiles and kamikaze sea drones, but with limited success.

Russian forces defending the bridge in July sank barges and ferries near the bridge to deter robot boat attacks. Raids by the explosives-carrying boats launched by the Ukrainians have continued, making the Kerch Strait – an important waterway for Russian commercial sea traffic – dangerous to use.

 

In comments cited by the UNIAN news agency, the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Kirill Budanov, said that Ukrainian forces would keep on attacking the Kerch Bridge and eventually destroy it. Ukraine’s long-term strategy is first to destroy Russia’s military supply chain in regions occupied by Moscow forces, as a precursor to liberation, he said.

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