A series of explosions during the past week in Russian-occupied Crimea are part of a new strategy being deployed by Ukrainian forces in the war, a Ukraine official said Wednesday.
A week ago, an attack at a Russian air base in Crimea destroyed nine warplanes. On Tuesday, a series of explosions rocked an ammunitions storage facility at a Russian base.
Russia called the latest attacks “sabotage.”
Ukrainian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post that Ukraine special forces were responsible for the attacks in Crimea.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Post that the Ukrainian government’s official position is that it can neither confirm nor deny Ukrainian involvement in the Crimea attacks.
However, Reznikov also told the Post that striking targets behind Russian lines is part of Ukraine’s current military strategy. He added that Ukraine lacks weapons with the range to reach targets in Crimea from Ukrainian-controlled territory.
In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have vowed to recapture Crimea and other territories now occupied by Russia after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
In a speech following the August 9 attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the war “began with Crimea and must end with Crimea -- its liberation.”
Analyst Oliver Alexander told Agence France-Presse that the explosions were hitting morale on the Russian side and lifting it on the Ukrainian side.
“Crimea has been relatively safe in the last six months. Now it isn’t any longer. It does put more pressure on the Russians,” he told AFP.
In his nightly video address Wednesday, Zelenskyy said, “Ukrainian soldiers will destroy the potential of the occupiers step by step, and the day will come when the enemy will die … like dew on the sun, and our defense is and will be this sun.”
Earlier Wednesday, Zelenskyy told people in Crimea and in other parts of southern Ukraine to “be very careful” and avoid areas where Russian forces store ammunition and equipment.
“The reasons for the explosions in the occupied territory can be different, very different, in particular, I quote the definition of the occupiers themselves, ‘bungling,’” Zelenskyy said in his latest address. “But they all have the same meaning: the destruction of the occupiers’ logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, command posts saves the lives of our people.”
Elsewhere, Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, killed seven people and injured 16, the Ukrainian Emergencies Service said Wednesday.
Kharkiv has often been targeted, and Zelenskyy called Wednesday’s attack “a devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification” in a Telegram post.
Also on Wednesday, Ukraine held disaster response drills after repeated shelling of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest of its kind in Europe.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told Reuters his government was very concerned about the safety of the plant in Enerhodar in the southeast of the country.
Both sides have accused the other of attacks near the facility in recent days and engaging in what they call “nuclear terrorism,” Reuters reported.
As part of the emergency drills, Ukrainian first responders donned full protective gear and then dealt with a man pretending to be a victim. The drills will be repeated in the coming days, authorities said, according to Reuters.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to visit Ukraine on Thursday for a meeting with Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the western Ukraine city of Lviv.
Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.N. chief would then travel Friday to the southern city of Odesa to visit a port being used as part of an initiative to restart Ukrainian grain exports. The United Nations and Turkey helped broker the agreement with Russia and Ukraine amid a global food crisis, and several ships have already departed Ukraine.
Guterres is also due to travel to Istanbul on Saturday to visit the Joint Coordination Center that is monitoring the export system, including inspections of the exports demanded by Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced late Monday $68 million to help with “procurement, transport, and storage of up to 150,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat to address acute food insecurity.”
“While the resumption of exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is a positive step in addressing the needs of food insecure countries, these shipments must continue so that the millions of tons of food trapped in the country can reach markets and help feed the world’s most vulnerable,” Blinken said in a statement.
Three more ships carrying grain and foodstuff exports left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Wednesday, the Joint Coordination Center said, according to Reuters.
Since exports began August 1, 24 vessels have left Ukraine.
The coordination center, which also inspects vessels under the deal, said the Sara, carrying 8,000 metric tons of corn, and the Efe, carrying 7,250 metric tons of sunflower oil, left the Odesa port and were bound for Turkey.
The Petrel S, loaded with 18,500 metric tons of sunflower meal, left the Chornomorsk port and was headed to Amsterdam, the coordination center said.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.