Massive explosions rocked a military depot in the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine on Tuesday, igniting fires and forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people.
The large-scale blasts occurred at an ammunition storage facility in Mayskoye, the second time in a week that explosions have occurred at Russian outposts in the territory it seized in 2014.
Russia, without pinpointing the perpetrators, called the latest explosions an “act of sabotage.” They followed last week’s attack at the Saki air base that destroyed nine Russian warplanes.
Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the Mayskoye incident, but Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted: "Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses, explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves. Demilitarization in action."
Citing the Russian Defense Ministry, Sergei Aksyonov, the head of Russia’s Crimea administration, blamed the explosions on a fire, adding that the detonations were ongoing. Russian officials said the fires at the depot caused damage to a power plant, power lines, rail tracks and some apartment buildings, but that there were no serious injuries.
"The evacuation of residents is underway, people are taken out of the five-kilometer zone from the incident to ensure safety," Aksyonov said.
Ukraine’s Podolyak contended that the nearby electricity substation that was affected by the blasts was being used to divert power from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to Russian-controlled regions.
"You must understand that they stole from the Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] in order to send electricity to Crimea through Dzhankoi," Podolyak said in a television interview, although his claim could not be immediately verified. "I think and believe that this is karmic retribution. Everything that is stolen does not bring wealth."
The fight for control of Crimea remains contentious, with Moscow demanding that Ukraine recognize it as part of Russia and Ukraine calling for its return to the Kyiv government before any eventual end to the war can be negotiated.
The military depot where the blasts occurred is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 kilometers from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.
The Russian military blamed last week's blasts at the Saki air base on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but more likely it appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, with U.S. news outlets quoting unnamed Ukrainian military sources as saying their forces carried it out.
In his nightly address late Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for fresh sanctions against Russia’s nuclear sector amid concerns about shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Zelenskyy warned of a potential “catastrophe” that would threaten other countries in the region.
“If now the world does not show strength and decisiveness to defend one nuclear power station, it will mean that the world has lost,” Zelenskyy said.
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused the other side of firing weapons near the facility.
That continued Monday with a Russia-installed official in Enerhodar saying Ukrainian artillery strikes landed near the plant, while a Ukrainian official said it was actually Russian forces that shelled the area in an attempt to make it look like a Ukrainian attack.
The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the conditions for the safe operations of the plant in a phone call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.
Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters there exists the logistics and security capacity in Ukraine to support a visit by inspectors from the Internation Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the plant, should both Russia and Ukraine agree.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia would do “everything necessary” for IAEA personnel to visit the site. But Russian state media later quoted Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy head of the foreign ministry’s nuclear proliferation and arms control department, saying it would be too dangerous for an IAEA mission to travel through Kyiv to reach the plant.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.