German troops join Bosnian EU mission, sparking Russian anger

A Russian ammunition storage unit in northern Crimea exploded, the Russian Defense Ministry said, injuring at least two people and prompting the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. The ministry blamed the explosion on sabotage.

Local news outlets, meanwhile, reported a second explosion on August 16 at a nearby electrical substation in Dzhankoy district on the Russian-occupied Black Sea peninsula.

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It was unclear whether the two incidents, which happened around the same time, were related.

Ukrainian officials have avoided publicly or directly claiming responsibility for the incidents, but some have appeared to suggest that Kyiv was involved.

Crimea was captured and annexed by Russia in 2014 and is still internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory, but Moscow has threatened severe retaliation for any attack on the peninsula.

The New York Times quoted a anonymous senior Ukrainian official saying that an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines was responsible for the explosions.

The head of Zelenskiy’s office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Twitter that “the Ukrainian Armed Forces are continuing the operation of ‘demilitarization’ in the background to completely rid our land of the Russian invaders”.

“Our soldiers are the best sponsors of a good mood,” Yermak added, “Crimea is Ukraine.”

Mykhaylo Podolyak, another senior Zelenskiy official, said on Twitter that thelast explosions recalled that “Russian-occupied Crimea is synonymous with warehouses, explosions and a high risk of death for invaders and thieves”.

“What is stolen does not bring prosperity,” Podolyak later told Ukrainian television.

Videos and photographs posted on Telegram and other social media showed a series of explosions in the district, which is not far from the administrative border with the mainland Ukrainian region of Kherson, now occupied by Russian forces.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the explosion occurred at a temporary ammunition storage facility. The ministry later blamed the explosion on unidentified saboteurs.

“On the morning of August 16, as a result of sabotage, a military warehouse near the village of Dzhankoy was damaged. A number of civilian facilities, including power lines, a power station, a railway, as well as ‘a number of residential buildings were damaged,’ the ministry said in a statement.

“There are no serious casualties. Necessary measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of sabotage,” he added.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed governor for the peninsula, said two people were injured and rail traffic was disrupted. About 3,000 people were also evacuated from a nearby village, he said.

Refat Chubarov, a prominent Crimean Tatar community leader, also said in a Facebook post that the blast happened at an ammunition dump.

Two local Crimean news agencies, Kryminform and Crimean Wind, reported that a transformer at an electrical substation had also exploded or caught fire.

Russia’s energy ministry was quoted by news agencies as confirming a fire at the Crimean substation, but said it had been brought under control. No cause was given.

The incidents came about a week after a series of explosions tore through Russia’s Saky air base in a western Crimea district, destroying a number of Russian warplanes.

There has been no confirmation as to the cause of these explosions, although satellite imagery has shown significant destruction at the base. Most observers suggest Ukrainian forces were responsible, but Kyiv has claimed no responsibility.

Mykhaylo Podolyak, senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a post on Twitter that the latest explosions were a reminder that “Russian-occupied Crimea is synonymous with warehouses, explosions and a high risk of death for invaders and thieves”.

“What is stolen does not bring prosperity,” Podolyak later told Ukrainian television.

The Dzhankoy district is about 50 kilometers from the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in southern Ukraine.

With reports from Crimea.Realities, a project of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, and AP

James R. Rhodes