The Ukrainian air force says nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in massive explosions Tuesday at an air base in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow seized in 2014. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed several hours after the blasts to take Crimea back.
Ukraine stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions at the Saki air base, even while ridiculing Russia’s denial of an attack. Moscow claimed that munitions caught fire and exploded, killing one person and injuring at least 13 others.
Key U.S. news outlets — The New York Times and The Washington Post — quoted unnamed Ukrainian officials as saying that Kyiv’s forces were responsible for carrying out an attack on the base on the western coast of Crimea but gave no details. The Times report said its source would not disclose what type of weapon caused the explosions but added, “A device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used.”
A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said Tuesday that the blasts either were caused by a Ukrainian-made long-range weapon or were the work of guerrillas operating in Crimea. The site, at least 200 kilometers from the nearest Ukrainian position, is out of range of the missiles the U.S. has supplied to Kyiv.
The attack inside Crimea would mark a significant escalation of hostilities in Russia’s offensive against the one-time Soviet republic, now in its sixth month. Moscow has used the Saki air base as a launch site for attacks on southern Ukraine.
In a Tuesday night video address, Zelenskyy pledged that Ukraine would retake Crimea, saying, "This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation."
Russian authorities sought Wednesday to downplay the explosions at the air base, saying they had not affected hotels and beaches on the peninsula, which is a popular summertime tourist destination for many Russians. However social media images showed people a nearby beach fleeing to safety as plumes of smoke towered overhead.
If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site in Crimea. Ukrainian saboteurs last month carried out a small drone attack on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Meanwhile, Russia shelled Ukraine’s central region of Dnipropetrovsk, where 13 people were killed and 11 others wounded, according to the region's governor, Valentyn Reznichenko.
Reznichenko said the Russian forces fired at the city of Marganets and a nearby village, damaging dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several administrative buildings.
"It was a terrible night," Reznichenko said. "It's very hard to take bodies from under debris. We are facing a cruel enemy who engages in daily terror against our cities and villages."
Some material in this report came from the Associated Press.