A huge fire erupted in Crimea annexed to Moscow after a suspected drone attack hit an oil depot on Saturday, as fighting escalated on Ukraine’s southern front and shelling stripped border villages of power Russians.
The attacks came a day after Kiev said preparations for a long-awaited counter-offensive were almost complete, after vowing to expel Russian forces from territory they seized in the east and south after their 2022 invasion.
On Friday, a Russian strike on a block of flats in the central Ukrainian city of Uman killed 23 people, including a little boy.
On Saturday, officials in Moscow-controlled Crimea, Russian-occupied towns in southern Ukraine and a governor of a border region reported attacks.
Fears of Ukrainian reprisals more than a year after Moscow’s offensive began have grown in Russia, where several cities have canceled traditional May 9 celebrations to mark the Soviet victory over the Nazis at the end of the Second World War. World War in 1945.
In Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, clouds of smoke rose into the sky as reserved fuel burned.
The port city has been hit by a series of drone attacks since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
– ‘God’s punishment’ –
Russian-installed authorities said the fire was caused by a suspected drone, but sought to downplay the incident, amid growing security fears on the peninsula.
The Kremlin said nothing about the attack.
It came less than 24 hours after Russia struck a typical Soviet-era housing block in the historic city of Uman, killing more than two dozen of its residents.
Kyiv on Saturday identified five children killed in the attack as an 18-month-old boy, three girls aged eight, 11 and 14 and a 16-year-old boy.
“A woman is considered missing. The search is continuing,” said Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko.
Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the Crimean attack, but military intelligence suggested it was revenge for Uman.
Andriy Yusov of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence unit said it was “God’s punishment, especially for the civilians killed in Uman”.
He warned Crimean residents to “avoid being near military installations and facilities supplying the aggressor’s army in the near future”.
– ‘Intense bondage’ –
In the peninsula annexed to Russia, the governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, urged the Crimeans to “stay calm” and said that “no one was injured”.
He estimated that the fire covered “approximately 1,000 square meters” (10,764 square feet).
Razvozhayev insisted that reserves on the peninsula were unaffected and authorities had enough fuel for all civilian needs.
Earlier this week, Moscow said it repelled a drone strike on Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 and used as a launch pad for its invasion.
In southern Ukraine, Russian occupation authorities said a key city they control – Novaya Kakhovka – had come under “intense shelling” and been cut off from power.
The city fell to Russian forces on the first day of their invasion on February 24, 2022. It lies in the part of the Kherson region that Moscow still controls, having withdrawn from the eponymous regional capital last November.
Russian forces urged residents of the town to “keep calm” and said work to restore power would begin “after the shelling stops”.
– Russian border villages bombed –
The bombing of Novaya Kakhovka came a day after Russian shelling killed a 57-year-old woman in a village in southern Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promising a response.
Inside Russia, security fears have grown amid talk of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The governor of the Belgorod border region – which has also been hit by a series of attacks throughout the war – said on Saturday that five border villages were without power after Ukrainian shelling.
“The power lines are damaged,” Gladkov said, adding that there were no casualties.
He said an uninhabited house had been hit and promised to restore power quickly.
Elsewhere, Russia has accused Poland – with whom it has a historically poor relationship – of “flagrant violation” of international standards after Warsaw seized a school run by the Russian embassy in the Polish capital.
Moscow called the decision an “illegal act” and promised “harsh” consequences against Warsaw.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)