A new attack on Russian targets in Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014 after the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government, has sent residents of the peninsula panicked.
This time, unlike after an airbase was hit last week, Russia did not say it was an accident: the Defense Ministry accused saboteurs of being behind a series of explosions that hit a large ammunition depot, damaging train and power lines.
The admission is rare and reflects the sense of panic that has gripped Crimean residents since the Ukrainian war, raging on its borders, ceased to be a topic of distorted Russian state TV news.
Tuesday’s attack took place near Djankoi, in the north of the peninsula, close to the Russian-occupied region of southern Ukraine, the subject of an offensive rehearsal by Kiev a few weeks ago. TV footage showed a burning power plant and several fire spots.
A village near the destroyed warehouse saw 2,000 residents evacuated, and at least two were injured. Rail services in the north of the region have been temporarily suspended. According to Russian media, there was also a drone attack on the Gvardeisie military airfield, near the Crimean capital, Simferopol.
“I’m Russian and I want Crimea to remain Russian. But I’m scared for the future,” realtor Yuri Stepanov said via email. He lives in Yalta, in the south of the peninsula, far from the action, but he has already sent his wife and daughter to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia.
“We have relatives there, I want to see how the situation goes.” In Sevastopol, Crimea’s main city and headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, the feeling is similar. Olga, an ethnic Ukrainian who preferred to stay after the annexation but asked not to have her surname disclosed, also reports a tension that was previously absent.
According to her, everything changed when the fleet’s headquarters was attacked by a drone operated by Ukrainians two weeks ago. “People still have the sinking of the Moskva in their heads, but now the fear is that the war is between us,” she said, referring to the fleet’s flagship, which sank in April in an apparent missile attack from Kiev. .
Russia did not admit this, speaking of an accident. The same thing happened last week, when at least eight of its planes were blown up on the runway at Saki air base, next to popular beaches where Russians vacation.
Images of Russians running at the sight of the blasts populated social media, further damaging the already precarious tourism in the region: since February, all airports in southern Russia and Crimea have been closed to civilian flights, forcing long train and car journeys.
On Monday (15), there was a record use of the bridge that connects the peninsula to Russia, inaugurated by Putin with great fanfare in 2018: 32,300 cars crossed it towards the Krasnodar region. In Simferopol, queues formed on Tuesday at the city’s train station.
According to Olga, who is married and has two children, an escape to Russia is not a viable option, but neither can she try to go to Ukraine. “My family is in Kiev, and I cannot go there, I am considered a traitor,” she said. “I hope everything turns out well.”
The Russian admission could set the tone for retaliation, as it is considered Moscow’s territory that is under attack. Also last week, there were mysterious explosions at a base used by the Russians for attacks on Ukraine in ally Belarus.
As usual, Kiev does not admit the actions, but obvious suggestions of authorship. President Volodymyr Zelensky has already said that the current conflict only ends with the return of Crimea, which seems militarily impossible. “The morning near Djankoi started with explosions. Demilitarization in action,” presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak wrote on Twitter.
It’s an irony. Demilitarization is one of the items used by Vladimir Putin in his justification of the war, which he calls a “special military operation”. In 2014, without firing a shot, the Russian annexed Crimea after a local referendum, denounced in international forums as fraudulent.
Legally there is no UN recognition of the annexation, but unlike the situation in Donbass, the eastern Ukrainian object of civil war from that same year, in Crimea sentiment in favor of Russia has always been strong: the region itself was given away. by the Soviet leadership to Ukraine in 1954, being historically Russian.
The peninsula was annexed in two parts: the Republic of Crimea, with 1.9 million inhabitants, and the federal city of Sevastopol, with 515,000 residents.