Russia describes the attack on the Crimean bridge as a “terrorist act” by Kyiv

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, say a Russian missile attack on a southern town killed 13 people.

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Donetsk Oblast — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called the attack that damaged the giant bridge linking Russia with the annexed territory of Crimea “an act of terrorism” directed by Ukrainian special services.

The Kerch Bridge, which has important strategic and symbolic value for Russia in its stalled war in Ukraine, was hit by a truck bomb a day earlier, Moscow said. Road and rail traffic on the bridge was temporarily disrupted, damaging a vital supply route for Kremlin forces.

“There is no doubt that it was an act of terrorism aimed at destroying the vital civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” Putin said during a meeting with the head of Russia’s investigative committee, Alexander Bastrykin. “And the originators, perpetrators and clients are the special services of Ukraine.”

Bastrykin said Ukrainian special services and citizens of Russia and other countries took part in the attack. He said a criminal investigation had been launched into an act of terrorism.

“We have already determined the truck’s route,” he said, saying it had gone to Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Krasnodar, a region in southern Russia.

In Kyiv, presidential adviser Mikhail Podoliak called Putin’s accusation “too cynical even for Russia.”

“Putin accuses Ukraine of terrorism?” he said. “It has been less than 24 hours since Russian planes fired 12 rockets into a residential area of ​​Zaporizhia, killing 13 and injuring more than 50. No, there is only one state terrorist and the whole world knows who he is.”

Podolyak cited rocket attacks on the city of Zaporizhia overnight, which brought down part of a large apartment building. The Ukrainian Air Force said the six rockets were fired from the Russian-held areas of the Zaporizhia region.

The region is one of four claimed by Russia this month, although the eponymous capital remains under Ukrainian control.

Russia has suffered a series of setbacks nearly eight months after invading Ukraine in a campaign many felt was short-lived. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive, retaking areas in the south and east, while Moscow’s decision to call in more troops has sparked protests and protests an exodus by hundreds of thousands of Russians.

Recent fighting has been concentrated in the regions north of Crimea, including Zaporizhia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented the recent attack.

“Again Zaporizhia. Again merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings in the middle of the night,” he wrote. At least 19 people died in Russian rocket attacks on apartment buildings in the city on Thursday.

“From the one who gave this order to everyone who carried out this order: you will respond,” he added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attacks on civilians in Zaporizhia a war crime and called for an international investigation.

Stunned residents watched from behind police tape as emergency responders attempted to reach the upper floors of a building that suffered a direct hit. Where there had once been apartments, a chasm at least 12 meters wide smoldered. In an adjacent apartment building, rocket fire blew windows and doors out of their frames within a radius of several hundred meters. At least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings were damaged, a local official said.

Regional police reported Sunday afternoon that the latest attack in Zaporizhia killed 13 people and wounded more than 60, including at least 10 children.

Tetyana Lazunko, 73, and her husband Oleksii took shelter in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after hearing air raid sirens. The blast shook the building and sent their belongings flying. Lazunko cried as the couple surveyed the damage to their home of nearly five decades.

“Why are they bombing us? Why?” she said.

Others called the missile attack relentless.

“There was an explosion, then another,” said 76-year-old Mucola Markovich. In no time, the fourth-floor apartment he shared with his wife was gone.

“When it will be rebuilt, I don’t know,” Markovich said. “At the end of my life I’ll be without a home.”

In another nearby neighborhood devastated by a missile, three volunteers dug a shallow grave for a German shepherd killed in the strike.

Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst and former speechwriter for Putin, said before declaring that what was involved was a terrorist attack, the Russian president had not responded with enough force to satisfy angry war hawks. The attack and response, he said, have “inspired the opposition while demoralizing the loyalists.”

“Because once again they see that they are lying when the authorities say everything is going according to plan and we’re winning, and that demoralizes them,” he said.

Putin personally opened the Kerch Bridge by driving a truck across it in May 2018, as a symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea. No one has claimed responsibility for damaging the 19-kilometer bridge, the longest in Europe.

Traffic across the bridge was temporarily halted after the blast, but both cars and trains were running across the bridge again on Sunday. Russia has also resumed a car ferry service.

Crimea is a popular vacation spot for Russians, and people trying to get to the bridge and back to mainland Russia encountered hours of traffic jams on Sunday.

“We were a bit unprepared for such a corner,” said one driver, Kirill Suslov, who was stuck in traffic. “That’s why the mood is a bit somber.”

The Institute for the Study of War said videos of the bridge showed damage from the blast “is likely to increase friction in Russian logistics for some time” but will not cripple Russia’s ability to equip its troops in Ukraine.

In other news:

  • In the devastated Ukrainian city of Lyman, which was recently recaptured after months of Russian occupation, Ukraine’s national police said authorities had exhumed the first 20 bodies from a mass grave site. According to initial information, about 200 civilians are buried in one place, and the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers are in another grave. The civilians, including children, were buried in individual graves, according to the police, and members of the military in a 40-meter-long ditch.
  • Ukraine’s military said Sunday fierce clashes broke out around the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed some gains. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not concede any loss of territory, but said that “the most tense situation” was observed around these two cities.
  • The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, said the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, had been reconnected to the grid after it lost its last external power source following the shelling early on Saturday. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi tweeted that the reconnection was “a temporary relief in a still unsustainable situation”. Russia describes the attack on the Crimean bridge as a “terrorist act” by Kyiv

Laura Coffey

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