Russia Scrambles to Reconnect Supply Lines to Crimea After Bridge Explosion

Russian missiles slammed into the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia overnight as Moscow tried to restore transport links with Crimea after a massive blast damaged the bridge connecting the peninsula to mainland Russia.

At least 17 people were killed and 40 others injured in the strikes in Zaporizhia, said City Council President Anatoly Kurtev. Dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed and the death toll is likely to rise, authorities said.

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Zaporizhzhia, located about 30 miles from the frontline where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting, has become a constant target of Russian shelling in recent days. Another rocket attack on a residential area also killed 17 people on Friday.

“The Russians are unable to react on the battlefield and are therefore hitting the cities in the rear,” wrote Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Twitter on Sunday morning.

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Russian Defense Ministry officials did not immediately comment.

The weekend’s blast at the 12-mile bridge linking Russia with Crimea severely damaged a critical supply line Moscow uses to transport food and fuel to the peninsula it seized in 2014 and to power its in to support the troops fighting in southern Ukraine.

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The bridge, opened to great fanfare by President Vladimir Putin in 2018, is also important symbolically – celebrated as a monument to the power of the Russian state and its aim to permanently hold annexed Ukrainian territory.

Security footage shows an explosion on the bridge connecting Crimea to Russia, a symbol of Moscow’s occupation of the peninsula. Russian officials blamed Kyiv, while Ukrainian officials welcomed the blast but took no responsibility. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Officials in Moscow said transport links across the bridge were gradually being restored and that alternative means of transporting essential supplies – such as ferry services – were being found.

Moscow blamed Ukraine for the damage. Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack, although Ukrainian officials have publicly celebrated the aftermath of the blast.

On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Transport announced that long-distance passenger and freight trains would again leave Crimea and cross the bridge to Russia. Russian authorities did not say whether trains from Russia would go to Crimea. Cars were also allowed to cross the bridge, but it remained closed to trucks.

Russia also said it would resume ferry service across the Kerch Strait, which separates Russia and Crimea, to carry passengers and cargo. Before the bridge was built, ferries were the main direct link between the two sides of the strait.

Experts said they are not sure the bridge is structurally sound enough to support heavy vehicles.

A Ukrainian soldier stands on top of a destroyed Russian tank in Shakhtarsk, a city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.


Photo:

ZOHRA BENSEMRA/REUTERS

David MacKenzie, senior technical director at COWI Holding A/S, a Denmark-based company that designs and builds some of the world’s largest and longest bridges, said it will be several months before Russia can fully restore the damaged spans of the bridge .

Restrictions on lorry and train traffic would likely remain in place amid concerns the bridge’s substructure has been damaged, Mr MacKenzie said.

The bridge explosion sparked outrage from some senior lawmakers, as well as from ordinary Russians. But Russian state media tried to downplay the event, refraining from calling it an attack and broadcasting TV interviews with happy train passengers expressing their gratitude for the restoration of service and their confidence in the use of the bridge.

The damage to the bridge will test the logistics of the Russian military, which relied heavily on rail transport and was already stretched. Russian forces in southern Ukraine are trying to repel Ukrainian counterattacks and hold areas they captured in the first weeks of the war.

Ukraine has already disabled most of the bridges across the Dnipro River, which separates the Russian-held city of Kherson and its environs from other Russian-held areas, using US-supplied long-range Himars missile systems.

Rescue workers extinguish a fire after a rocket hit a house in the eastern city of Bakhmut.


Photo:

anatolii stepanov/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Ukraine has made steady progress in the region over the past month, although its progress has been slower than in the northeast, where it reclaimed thousands of square miles of territory in just days over the past month.

On Saturday, Ukraine used Himars missiles to destroy a railway junction in the southern part of the Donetsk region used by the Russian military, which could have served as another supply route to the occupied south.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the damage to the bridge will not permanently disrupt Russian supply lines but is likely to cause significant problems in the short term.

“Russian armed forces will probably still be able to transport heavy military equipment via the railroad,” the institute wrote. “Russian officials are likely to increase security checks on all vehicles crossing the bridge, but this will cause delays in the movement of Russian military equipment, personnel and supplies to Crimea.”

write to Ian Lovett at [email protected] and Ann M. Simmons at [email protected]

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