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Huge explosion rocked Russian military airbase in Crimea

KYIV, Ukraine – Powerful explosions rocked a Russian airbase in Crimea and sent clouds of smoke towering over the landscape on Tuesday, which could mark an escalation of the war in Ukraine. Authorities said at least one person was killed and several others were injured.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied that the Saki base on the Black Sea had been shelled and instead said bombs and shells had exploded there. But Ukrainian social networks were abuzz with speculation that it had been hit by a long-range missile fired by Ukraine.

Videos posted on social media showed sunbathers on nearby beaches fleeing as huge flames and plumes of smoke rose from multiple points on the horizon, accompanied by loud explosions. Crimea Today News said on Telegram that witnesses had reported fires on one runway and damage to nearby homes as a result of dozens of explosions.

Russia’s state news agency Tass quoted an unnamed source as saying that the main cause of the explosion appeared to be a “violation of fire safety requirements”. The ministry said no fighter jets were damaged.

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said on Facebook sarcastically: “The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine could not determine the cause of the fire, but once again reiterates the rules of fire safety and prohibits smoking in unspecified places. “.

During the war, Russia reported multiple fires and explosions at weapons storage sites on its territory near the Ukrainian border, blaming some of them on Ukrainian air strikes. . The Ukrainian authorities remained mostly calm about the incident.

If, in fact, Ukrainian forces were responsible for the explosions at the airbase, it would mark the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula that the Kremlin has not known. Kremlin merged in 2014. A smaller explosion last month at headquarters. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at the Crimean port of Sevastopol has been blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs using a makeshift drone.

Russian warplanes used the Saki base to briefly attack areas in southern Ukraine.

Crimea region leader Sergei Aksyonov said one person had been killed. Crimean health authorities said nine people were injured, one of whom is still hospitalized. Others were treated for cuts from shards of glass and released.

Officials in Moscow have long warned Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger major retaliation, including attacks on “decision-making centers” in Kyiv.

For his part, the President of Ukraine vowed to retake Crimea from Russia.

“This war of Russia against Ukraine and against the whole of free Europe begins with Crimea and must end with Crimea – its liberation,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday in a video speech. his nightly. “Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary ingredients to the recipe for the liberation of Crimea.”

Earlier, Ukrainian officials reported that at least three Ukrainian civilians had been killed and 23 wounded by Russian shelling in 24 hours, including an attack not far from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The Russians fired more than 120 rockets at the town of Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the factory, Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Several apartment buildings and industrial parks were damaged, he said.

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, raising international fears of a disaster.

The governor of the region where the plant is located, Oleksandr Starukh, on Tuesday said radiation levels were normal. However, he warned that an accident could scatter radiation any way the wind blows, carrying it to Moscow and other Russian cities.

A Russian-installed official in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia area said an air defense system at the plant would be beefed up following last week’s shelling. Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the Kremlin-backed government, told Russian state television that power lines and other damaged parts of the plant had been restored.

The Ukrainians have in recent weeks launched counterattacks on Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine while trying to contain Kremlin forces in the eastern Donbas industrial region.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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