The Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea, a hated symbol of the Kremlin’s occupation of the southern Ukrainian peninsular, has been hit by a massive explosion on the span that carries railway traffic.
Images from the bridge showed a fiercely burning fire engulfing at least two railway carriages from a train on the bridge, accompanied by a vast column of black smoke.
There is no overland transportation link between Russia and Crimea, and building a bridge across the shortest waterway, near the Crimean city of Kerch, would take years and cost an estimated $5 billion.
The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard kilometres away, took place around 6am on Saturday while a train was crossing the bridge, although it was not immediately clear what caused it.
A fuel tank was on fire on the Kerch bridge in Crimea early on Saturday, Russia’s RIA state news agency said, while Ukraine’s media reported an explosion.
Some images appeared to show a second fire at some distance from the main blaze.
Later images also appeared to show part of road bridge that runs parallel with the train tracks had collapsed.
The bridge is both highly symbolic to Russia and an important logistical supply route for Russian forces in Crimea and in southern Russian-occupied Ukraine.
The Russian news service Tass said a fuel tanker was involved. “According to preliminary data, a fuel tank [railroad] car has been on fire at one of the sections of the Crimean bridge, shipping arches aren’t damaged, said Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Russian occupation head of the Crimea.
Another Moscow-appointed official said: “A cistern carriage is burning with fuel on one of the bridge sections. Shipping arches aren’t affected. Too early to talk about reasons and consequences. Work is under way to put out the fire.”
However, video footage taken from the road span appeared to show fires burning fiercely in several railway trucks along the length of the train, numbering at least half a dozen with the train stationary on the bridge.
The railway span is part of a pair of parallel bridges, crossing the Kerch Strait linking Krasnodar in Russia and Crimea, which was built by Russia after its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Some 12 miles (19km) long, the road bridge was opened by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2018, with the railway bridge opening two years later.
While there appeared to be no damage to the supporting arches of the bridge, it marks the latest humiliating set back for Moscow, following several weeks of battlefield reverses that has seen Ukrainian forces force the retreat of Russian troops in eastern and southern Ukraine.
During the nine-month war in Ukraine, Russia had for months assumed that Crimea – including the Kerch bridge – was beyond the ability of Ukrainian forces to strike. However in the past two months a series of explosions have hit sites in the Crimea including the Saky naval air base, amid mounting confidence in Kyiv that it can retake Crimea.
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