A Russian barrage pounded apartment buildings and other targets in the areaCity of Zaporizhia, at least 17 people were killed and dozens injured, officials said on Sunday.
The blasts in the city, which remains under Ukrainian control but is in a region Moscow has claimed as its own, shattered windows in adjacent buildings and partially collapsed at least one high-rise apartment building.
The multiple strikes came after an explosion on Saturday caused itwith Russia. The attack on the Kerch Bridge damaged a key supply route for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine, an artery that is also a towering symbol of Russian power in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called the attack “an act of terrorism” directed by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
“There is no doubt that it was an act of terrorism aimed at destroying the vital civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” Putin said at 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 Podoljak described Putin’s accusation as “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 bridge was bombed a day laterturned 70 and dealt him a humiliating blow that one military analyst described as a slap in the face to Putin on his birthday, reports CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata.
The rockets that hit Zaporizhia overnight damaged at least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings, City Council Secretary Anatoly Kurtev said. At least 40 people have been hospitalized, Kurtev said on Telegram.
The Ukrainian military confirmed the attack and said there were dozens of casualties.
Residents gathered behind police cordon tape at a building where several floors collapsed in the blast, leaving a smoldering chasm at least 40 feet wide where apartments once stood.
Tetyana Lazun’ko, 73, and her husband Oleksii took shelter in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after hearing sirens warning of an attack. They were spared the worst of the explosion, which left them in fear and disbelief.
“There was an explosion. Everything shook,” said Lazun’ko. “Everything flew and I screamed.”
Broken glass, entire window and door frames, and other debris covered the exterior floors of the apartment where they had lived since 1974. Lazun’ko cried inconsolably, wondering why her home was being attacked in an area with no military infrastructure in sight.
“Why are they bombing us. Why?” She said.
Oleksii, sitting quietly and leaning on a wooden stick, has suffered three strokes, Lazun’ko said. He broke his silence and said slowly, “This is international terrorism.
In recent weeks, Russia has repeatedly attacked Zaporizhia, the capital of the region of the same name that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last week. At least 19 people died in Russian rocket attacks on apartment buildings in the city on Thursday.
“Again Zaporizhia. Again merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegram post.
“Absolute meanness. Absolute evil. … From the one who gave this order to all who carried out this order: They will answer. You need to. Before the law and the people,” he added
While Russia targeted Zaporizhia ahead of the blast on the Crimean bridge on Saturday, the attack was a major blow to Russia, which annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. No one has taken responsibility for damaging the bridge.
Putin signed a decree late Saturday to tighten security for the bridge and power infrastructure between Crimea and Russia, handing responsibility for the effort to Russia’s FSB federal security service.
Some Russian lawmakers have urged Putin to declare a “counterterrorism operation” rather than using the term “military special operation,” which has downplayed the scale of the fighting on ordinary Russians.
Hours after the blast, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Air Force Chief General Sergei Surovikin would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine. Surovikin, who was put in charge of troops in southern Ukraine this summer, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.
The 19-kilometer Kerch Bridge, on a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is a symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and a vital link to the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The $3.6 billion bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to sustaining Russian military operations in southern Ukraine. Putin himself presided over the opening of the bridge in May 2018.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack in a video speech, but did not go into the cause.
“Today was not a bad day and mostly sunny on our territory,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it was warm too.”
Zelenskyi said Ukraine wanted a future “without occupiers. On our entire territory, especially in Crimea”.
Zelenskyi also said that Ukrainian forces were advancing or holding the line to the east and south, but conceded “very, very difficult, very hard fighting” around the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have made recent gains.
Train and car traffic across the bridge has been temporarily suspended. Car traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact, with the flow alternating in both directions, said Russia-backed Crimea leader Sergey Aksyonov.
The Russian Ministry of Transport said on Telegram Sunday that passenger train services between Crimea and mainland Russia had resumed overnight “as planned”.
In a separate Telegram post on Sunday, the ministry said car ferries also operated between Crimea and the mainland, with the first crossing taking place just before 2 a.m. local time (11 p.m. GMT).
While Russia seized areas north of Crimea and built a land corridor along the Sea of Azov to get there along the Azov Sea early in its invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine is pushing for a counteroffensive to retake that territory and four regions that Putin illegally annexed this month.
Russia has stepped up its strikes against the city of Zaporizhia since officially taking over the surrounding region on September 29.
The regional governor of Zaporizhia reported that the death toll rose to 32 after Russia’s rocket attack on a civilian convoy moving out of the city on September 30.
Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is located in a part of the Zaporizhia region currently under Russian control. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has repeatedly been endangered by fighting, and Ukrainian authorities shut down its last operational reactor last month to prevent a radiation disaster.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear regulatory body, said Saturday that the Zaporizhia plant had lost its last external source of energy after renewed shelling and was now reliant on backup diesel generators.
The Crimean Peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and is home to a Russian naval base. A Russian tourism association estimates that 50,000 tourists stayed in Crimea on Saturday.