Ukraine has hinted that it was behind another mysterious and devastating attack on occupied Crimea that destroyed a key railway junction used to supply Russian troops.
Smoke rose into the sky near Dzhankoi, a major railway junction in the north of the peninsula used by the Russian military to transport troops and equipment to occupied Melitopol, which captured Moscow early in its large-scale invasion.
A series of explosions on Tuesday appeared to have destroyed a Russian munitions depot and an electricity station about 200 kilometers from the frontline with Ukrainian troops.
A similar attack last week destroyed Russia’s Saky airport in western Crimea. At least eight fighters were burned. Tourists relaxing on the beach fled in panic as long lines of traffic tried to escape over a bridge to the mainland.
It was unclear how Ukraine managed to achieve both military goals, and Kiev has not formally confirmed responsibility. The US-supplied Himars system used by Ukrainian soldiers to destroy bridges over the Dnieper River has a range of about 80 kilometers.
Officials in Kiev have suggested that the Crimean attacks may be the work of partisans encouraged by Ukraine’s recent successes with guided missiles, or the product of disagreements within the Russian military. Anyway, Russia’s southern bases and command posts suddenly look vulnerable.
The defense ministry in Moscow confirmed that a fire had broken out in Dzhankoi, but gave no explanation as to what might have happened. “The necessary measures are being taken to remove the consequences of sabotage,” the ministry said.
Senior Ukrainian government employees expressed their joy on social media. Mykailo Podolyak, an adviser to the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the apparent attack was an example of “demilitarization in action”. He posted on Twitter: “A reminder… Russian-occupied Crimea is about warehouse explosions and high risk of death for intruders and thieves.”
Another presidential aide, Oleksiy Arestovych, tweeted a Photoshopped photo of himself relaxing on a recliner, similar to the one pictured at the apparent Saky attack in Ukraine last week. In the background is black smoke. “Morning in Dzhankoi,” Arestovych wrote.
In his last overnight speech, Zelenskiy again accused Moscow of “nuclear blackmail” and called on Russia to return the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which it uses as a military base from which it has shelled the nearby Ukrainian-controlled towns of Nikopol. and Marhanets.
Zelenskiy called for sanctions against the Russian nuclear agency Rosastom and against the “entire nuclear industry of the terrorist state”. Rosatom employees are in the complex, which Ukrainian technical staff continues to operate.
“All Russian troops must be withdrawn from the factory and neighboring areas immediately and without conditions,” Zelenskiy said. More than 40 countries have urged Russia to withdraw and withdraw heavy weapons from the facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
A former senior staff member said anonymously that the Russians had moved large numbers of armored vehicles into the giant turbine hall of reactor No. 1.
They said the Russians fired on the factory from surrounding villages and roads. Their ostensible aim was to raise the stakes in the negotiations with Kiev and put pressure on the international community, which would force Ukrainian concessions, they suggested.
“The whole situation at the factory is dangerous, but still not catastrophic,” the source said. “I Still Believe They” [the Russians] are not crazy and they will not come to the point of disaster.”
Four of the reactors stopped working and were in a cold state, they said. The other two were operational but operating at half capacity. Rosatom personnel were in contact with Russian soldiers, advising them which areas could be “safely” shelled, they claimed.
When asked if Ukraine itself is shooting the plant, as Russia claimed, the source replied: “That’s like believing the sun revolves around the earth. It is absolutely impossible. It is our factory, our territory and our people. The Russians are responsible for this.”
About 50,000 people live in Enerhodar, the city in the Zaporizhzhya region next to the nuclear complex. Russian troops have kept a low profile and have hung Russian flags over key buildings, including the former headquarters of the Ukrainian intelligence agency SBU.
Many male residents had their women and children evacuated to safer Ukraine-controlled areas, the source said. Schools and nurseries were closed. Stores that were empty during the early months of the invasion now had products for sale containing Ukrainian hryvnias, she added.
For the past 10 days, explosions have shaken Enerhodar awake every night, the source continued. A man walking his dog was killed by shelling in the First District – the only local casualty in recent months.
“The Russians are actively using the area around the city. I hear all these terrible noises at night and during the day. Sometimes it sounds like the explosions are so close that they are in my neighbor’s yard,” they said.
There was every sign that Russia intends to annex occupied Zaporizhzhya soon. An “election tent” had been set up in Enerhodar ahead of a so-called vote, they said. The front page headline of a new Russian propaganda magazine, Zaporizhzhya Vesnik, reads: “There will be a referendum!”
The source said: “None of my friends want a referendum. I don’t see people going to vote. Perhaps there are some who live in a parallel universe.”