Putin launches ‘revenge’ missile strike killing 17 including child after explosion on Crimea bridge

9 October 2022, 12:39 | Updated: 9 October 2022, 17:44

Fran Way

By Fran Way

A Russian barrage has pounded apartment buildings and other targets in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, killing at least 17 people and wounding dozens, officials said.

The blasts in the city, which sits in a region Moscow has claimed as its own, blew out windows in adjacent buildings and left at least one high-rise apartment building partially collapsed.

The multiple strikes came after an explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia, damaging an important supply artery for the Kremlin's faltering war effort in southern Ukraine and hitting a towering symbol of Russian power in the region.

City council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said rockets struck Zaporizhzhia overnight, and that at least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings were damaged.

At least 40 people were admitted to hospital and dozens more were being treated for moderate to light injuries, Mr Kurtev posted on his Telegram channel.

The Ukrainian military also confirmed the attack, saying there were dozens of casualties.

In recent weeks, Russia has repeatedly struck the southern city, which is in the Ukrainian controlled-part of a region that Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed in violation of international law last week.

At least 19 people also died in Russian missile strikes on apartment buildings in Zaporizhzhia on Thursday.

Residents of a building damaged overnight gathered behind police tape watching the smouldering remains of several floors that collapsed from the blast, leaving a chasm at least 40ft wide where apartments once stood.

Rescue workers tried to reach the upper floors.

While Russia targeted Zaporizhzhia before Saturday's explosion on the Crimea bridge, the attack was a significant blow to Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

No-one has claimed responsibility for damaging the bridge.

Mr Putin signed a decree late on Saturday tightening security for the bridge and for energy infrastructure between Crimea and Russia, and put Russia's federal security service, the FSB, in charge of the effort.

Some Russian legislators called for Mr Putin to declare a "counter-terrorism operation", rather than the term "special military operation" that has downplayed the scope of fighting to ordinary Russians.

Hours after the explosion, Russia's Defence Ministry announced that the air force chief, General Sergei Surovikin, would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine.

Gen Surovikin, who this summer was placed in charge of troops in southern Ukraine, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.

The 19-kilometre (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, on a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is a symbol of Moscow's claims on Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The 3.6 billion dollar bridge, the longest in Europe, is vital to sustaining Russia's military operations in southern Ukraine.

Mr Putin himself presided over the bridge's opening in May 2018.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a video address, indirectly acknowledged the bridge attack but did not address its cause.

"Today was not a bad day and mostly sunny on our state's territory," he said.

"Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it was also warm."

Mr Zelensky said Ukraine wants a future "without occupiers. Throughout our territory, in particular in Crimea".

He also said Ukrainian forces advanced or held the line in the east and south, but acknowledged "very, very difficult, very tough fighting" around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed recent gains.

Train and car traffic over the bridge was temporarily suspended.

Car traffic resumed on Saturday afternoon on one of the two links that remained intact, with the flow alternating in each direction, said Crimea's Russia-backed leader Sergey Aksyonov.

Rail traffic resumed slowly.

Two passenger trains left the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol and headed towards the bridge on Saturday evening.

Passenger ferry links between Crimea and the Russian mainland were being relaunched on Sunday.

While Russia seized areas north of Crimea early in its invasion of Ukraine and built a land corridor to it along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counter-offensive to reclaim that territory as well as four regions Mr Putin illegally annexed this month.

Russia has ramped up its strikes on the city of Zaporizhzhia since formally absorbing the surrounding region on September 29.

The regional governor of Zaporizhzhia reported that the death toll had risen to 32 after Russia's missile strike on a civilian convoy making its way out of the city on September 30.

In a Telegram post, Oleksandr Starukh said that one more person died in hospital on Friday.

A part of the Zaporizhzhia region currently under Russian control is home to Europe's largest nuclear power station.

Fighting has repeatedly imperilled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and Ukrainian authorities shut down its last operating reactor last month to prevent a radiation disaster.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, said on Saturday that the Zaporizhzhia plant has since lost its last remaining external power source as a result of renewed shelling and is now relying on emergency diesel generators.

The Crimean Peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and home to a Russian naval base.

A Russian tourist association estimated that 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on Saturday.