Videos posted to social media show Russian vacationers fleeing Crimea following blasts at a military air base in the region that Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Black smoke from the Saki air base located in the west of the peninsula was visible from the nearby packed beaches after the attack on Tuesday which the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said had left one person dead and 14 injured.
The explosion sparked an exodus from the area which has been a popular holiday resort for years with videos showing people driving over the Kerch Bridge that links Crimea with the Russian territory of Krasnodar.
In one video, a woman expressed gratitude that her car was at least moving in the traffic jam, although she tearfully lamented how she had to leave Crimea.
“Special operation. Everything goes according to plan. Russians are fleeing Crimea, there are huge traffic jams on the roads,” Twitter user Lieutenant Kizhe captioned the clip, which by Thursday morning had been viewed more than half a million times.
The news outlet Live Kuban described how Krasnodar residents faced inspections from law enforcement and cars were snarled up in an “incredible” traffic jam. One driver said he had been stuck for almost half an hour just before the bridge.
“The traffic jams toward the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Crimea with Russia are now dozens of kilometers long,” tweeted news outlet Visegrad 24, along with a video of the jam. “Russian tourists are fleeing for their lives.”
Although internationally recognized as Ukrainian, Crimea’s Black Sea beaches and resorts have remained a key vacation area for Russians since Moscow annexed it in 2014. The strikes on the air base are likely to impact the tourism industry which was thought of until now as safe from the fighting.
Ksenia Korkina, a Russian visitor to Crimea who witnessed the explosions, said there were “about 15 explosions” which lasted for up to 40 minutes. “Many vacationers were trying to find shelter—some people were hiding behind the trees, children were crying. People were trying to stick together,” she told The Moscow Times.
Kyiv has not publicly claimed it was behind the attack, but The New York Times quoted an anonymous Ukrainian military official as taking responsibility. Russia’s defense ministry said the explosions were the result of an accident.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky referred to the explosion in his nightly address on Wednesday, saying that day “the occupiers lost ten combat aircraft—nine in Crimea and one more in the direction of Zaporizhzhya.”
Satellite images showed that at least eight Russian warplanes had been damaged or destroyed in the strikes, despite Russian claims that none had been affected.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defense ministry tweeted an image of the plume of smoke rising above the village of Novofedorivka. It wrote that it “would like to remind everyone that the presence of occupying troops on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea is not compatible with the high tourist season.”
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