Powerful explosions erupted at a Russian air base in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding five others, authorities said, but the cause of the blasts was unknown.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said munitions blew up at the Saki base in the region seized by Russia in 2014, but it emphasized the installation had not been shelled.
There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian authorities, but there was widespread speculation on Ukrainian social networks that Kyiv’s forces had hit the base with long-range missiles. Sunbathers fled a nearby beach as huge clouds of smoke from the explosions rose over the horizon, while authorities sealed off the area around the base within a radius of five kilometers.
Ukraine’s forces have not attacked Crimea during Russia’s offensive, now in its sixth month, with officials in Moscow warning Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on “decision-making centers” in Kyiv.
But a small-scale, makeshift drone hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol last month, an attack blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs. The Saki base has been used by Russian warplanes to strike areas in Ukraine’s southern region.
Ukrainian officials said earlier Tuesday that in the last day at least three Ukrainian civilians were killed and 23 were wounded by Russian shelling, including an attack not far from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired more than 120 rockets at the town of Nikopol, which is across the Dnieper River from the nuclear facility. Several apartment buildings and industrial sites were damaged, he said.
In recent days, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power station, the biggest nuclear plant in Europe, and officials have been worrying about a nuclear catastrophe.
In his nightly video address Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, which at the time was a Soviet republic. He called for new sanctions against Russia, accusing it of risking another nuclear disaster with its shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant. Russia has blamed Ukraine for the attacks on the complex.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff said early Tuesday that a Russian offensive is continuing toward the hub cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in the eastern Donetsk region as Moscow tries to inflict “maximum losses” on Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine said the Russian Air Force was bombarding military facilities in the direction of Donetsk in support of artillery and other ground operations aimed at dislodging Ukrainian units from the front lines.
British intelligence warned Monday that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines in the eastern Donbas region, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations.
But Kyiv’s military planners said their forces had repelled reconnaissance and offensive operations in a handful of settlements around Ivano-Daryivka, Bakhmut, and Zaitsevo.
They said Russian forces had withdrawn after unsuccessful pushes around Avdiyivka and Krasnohorivka.
Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.