The Kerch bridge connecting Russia and Crimea, a despised symbol of the Kremlin’s occupation of the southern Ukrainian peninsula and one of Vladimir Putin’s prestige projects, has been destroyed by a massive explosion.
Images from the bridge showed a fiercely burning fire engulfing at least two railway carriages from a train crossing the bridge, accompanied by a massive column of black smoke, and one-half of the parallel road bridge collapsing into the Kerch Strait.
The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard kilometres away, took place before 6 am on Saturday while a train was crossing the bridge.
It was not immediately clear what caused it, but Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser in Ukraine, appeared to blame Kyiv, tweeting: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning.” Everything that is illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, and everything associated with the Russian occupation must be expelled.”
Damage to the bridge’s road section revealed that the carriageway had been cleanly severed, with no obvious sign of a missile strike in the first images to emerge, leading some to speculate that the attack on the bridge was a spectacular act of sabotage.
The bridge is significant to Russia as well as a vital logistical supply route for Russian forces in Crimea and southern Russian-occupied Ukraine. The railway line damage, in particular, leaves Russian forces in the south with a single railway supply line – between Krasnodar and Melitopol – that is now vulnerable to Ukraine attacks.
The bridge explosion occurred a day after Putin celebrated his 70th birthday, and it came amid mounting criticism in Russia of Putin’s handling of his war against Ukraine following a series of increasingly devastating setbacks on the battlefield in recent weeks.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion reports emerged of residents in the Crimea rushing to petrol stations anxious about fuel shortages.