Russian strikes kill at least 12 after bridge blast



By JUSTIN SPIKE and ADAM SCHRECK

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian reports say President Vladimir Putin is calling the Kerch bridge attack in Crimea a terrorist act carried out by Ukrainian special services.

“There is no doubt that it was a terrorist act aimed at the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure,” Putin said in a video of a meeting Sunday with the chairman of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin.

Bastrykin said that he had opened a criminal case in an act of terrorism.

Bastrykin said that Ukrainian special services and citizens of Russia and other countries took part in the act.

“We have already established the route of the truck” that Russian authorities said set off a bomb and an explosion on the bridge, he said. Bastrykin said the truck had been in Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar (a region in southern Russia) and other places.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Previous AP story follows below.

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — The couple huddled under a blanket before dawn Sunday when they heard missiles again heading toward their city, which has come under repeated shelling as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled. for control of the territory that Moscow illegally annexed.

“There was one explosion, then another,” said Mucola Markovich. Then, in a flash, the fourth-floor apartment he shares with his wife is gone, said the 76-year-old, holding back tears.

Overnight Russian missile attacks on the city of Zaporizhzhia brought down part of a large apartment building, leaving at least a dozen dead.

“When it will be rebuilt, I don’t know,” Markovich said. “I am left without an apartment at the end of my life.”

The strikes come as Russia has suffered a series of setbacks nearly eight months after invading Ukraine in a campaign many thought would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive, retaking areas in the south and east, while Moscow’s decision to call in more troops has led to protests and an exodus of tens of thousands of Russians.

The latest setback for Moscow was an explosion on Saturday that hit a large bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. The attack on the Kerch Bridge damaged an important supply route for the Kremlin forces, and was a blow to Russian prestige.

Recent fighting has focused on regions just north of Crimea, including Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented the latest attack in a Telegram post.

“Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” he wrote. At least 19 people were killed in Russian missile attacks on apartment buildings in the city on Thursday.

“From the one who gave this order, to all those who carried out this order: they will answer,” he added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attacks on civilians a war crime and urged an international investigation.

The six missiles used in Sunday night’s attack were launched from Russian-occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian air force said. The region is one of four Russia claimed as its own this month, although its capital of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.

Stunned residents watched from behind police tape as emergency crews tried to reach the upper floors of a building that took a direct hit. An abyss at least 12 meters (40 feet) wide lay where the apartments once were.

In an adjacent apartment building, the missile bar shot windows and doors out of their frames within a radius of hundreds of feet. At least 20 private houses and 50 apartment buildings were damaged, city council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said.

Immediately after, the city council said that 17 people were killed, but later revised that up to 12. The regional police said on Sunday afternoon that 13 were killed and more than 60 injured, at least 10 of them children.

Tetyana Lazunko, 73, and her husband, Oleksii, took refuge in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after hearing air raid sirens. The explosion shook the building and sent his possessions flying. Lazunko cried as the couple surveyed the damage to their home of nearly five decades.

“Why are they bombing us? Why?” she said.

About 3 kilometers (2 miles) away in another neighborhood devastated by a missile, three volunteers were digging a shallow grave for a German shepherd dog killed in the strike, its leg blown off by the blast.

Russian officials did not immediately comment on the strikes. Defense officials also avoided direct mention of the explosion that damaged the Kremlin’s prized Crimea bridge.

Some nationalist bloggers have begun making rare criticism of Russia’s Vladimir Putin for not addressing the bridge attack, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War noted.

Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst and former speechwriter for Putin, said the Russian president, who formed a committee Saturday to investigate the bridge explosion, had not responded strongly enough to satisfy angry war hawks. . The attack and the response, he said, had “inspired the opposition, while the loyalists were demoralized”.

“Because once again, they see that when the authorities say that everything is going according to plan and we win, that they are lying, and it demoralizes them,” he said.

Putin personally opened the Kerch Bridge in May 2018 by driving a truck across it as a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea. The bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to support Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine.

No one has claimed responsibility for damage.

Traffic on the bridge was temporarily suspended after the explosion, but both cars and trains crossed again on Sunday. Russia has also resumed car ferry service.

Crimea is a popular holiday destination for Russians. People who tried to drive to the bridge and to the Russian mainland on Sunday encountered traffic jams for hours.

“We were a little unprepared for such a turn,” said a driver, Kirill Suslov, sitting in traffic. “That’s why the mood is a little dark.”

The Institute for the Study of War said videos of the bridge indicated that the damage from the explosion “will likely increase friction in Russian logistics for some time,” but would not cripple Russia’s ability to equip his troops in Ukraine.

Hours after the explosion, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that the head of the air force, General Sergei Surovikin, will now command all Russian troops in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday that fierce clashes had taken place around the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed some recent territorial gains. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not acknowledge any loss of territory, but said that “the most tense situation” was observed around these two cities.

And in the devastated Ukrainian town of Lyman, which was recently retaken after a month of Russian occupation, authorities are searching for the bodies of more civilians. Mark Tkachenko of the Kramatorsk district police said Lyman has become a “humanitarian crisis” that could still hold more dark discoveries like mass graves.

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Schreck said from Kiev.

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

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