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Russia Refocuses War on Crimea         08/16 06:12

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- The world's attention on the war in Ukraine on Tuesday 
turned anew to Russia-annexed Crimea, where two separate fires, including one 
with massive explosions, injured at least two people and forced the evacuation 
of around 2,000 residents.

   The second incident in a week in Crimea raised increasing questions about 
whether Ukrainian forces managed to hit the peninsula. Videos posted on social 
media showed thick plumes of smoke rising over the raging flames, and a series 
of multiple explosions could be heard in the background.

   "Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of 
death for invaders and thieves," said a cryptic Twitter message from Ukraine 
presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, which stopped short of claiming any 
Ukraine responsibility for the incident.

   The blaze and blasts rattled the village of Mayskoye in the Dzhankoi 
district of Crimea early Tuesday, Russian media also reported.

   Another morning incident was reported in Dzhankoi itself -- according to 
Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti, a transformer substation was on fire 
after "a loud thump sound." Russia's Energy Ministry reported shortly after 
that the fire at the substation was contained.

   It wasn't immediately clear whether the fire at the substation and the fire 
at the ammunition storage site were connected.

   Kyiv certainly reinforced a message of chaos.

   "Morning near Dzhankoi began with explosions. A reminder: Crimea of normal 
country is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism," Podolyak 
wrote, referring to the time before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.

   The Russian Defense Ministry said a fire erupted at a "site for temporary 
storage of ammunition of one of the military units."

   "As a result of the fire, the stored ammunition detonated," the ministry 
said, adding that it wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire.

   The Dzhankoi district of Crimea is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 
kilometers (30 miles) from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern 
Ukraine. Kyiv has recently mounted a series of attacks on various sites in the 
region, targeting supply routes for the Russian military there and ammunition 
depots.

   Crimea's Russian-appointed governor Sergei Aksyonov said that two people 
sustained injuries in the most recent incident, and that local residents were 
being evacuated from the area, as explosions of ammunition continued.

   Aksyonov said some residential buildings were damaged near the site of the 
fire, and about 2,000 people were evacuated from nearby areas. According to 
Russian media, railway lines going through Mayskoye were also damaged.

   Aksyonov said all trains will be stopped at the town of Vladislavovka, about 
90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Mayskoye, and passengers will be able to 
continue their journeys on buses.

   Last week, a series of explosions occurred at the Saki air base near the 
Novofyodorovka village in Crimea. The Russian military blamed the blasts on an 
accidental detonation of munitions there, but the incident appeared to be the 
result of a Ukrainian attack. Kyiv said the explosions destroyed nine Russian 
airplanes.

   Ukrainian officials at the time stopped short of publicly claiming 
responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia's explanation that a 
careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire 
and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation doesn't make sense and that 
the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

   The Crimean Peninsula holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for 
both sides. The Kremlin's demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of 
Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while 
Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other 
occupied territories.

   And a British Defense Ministry intelligence update claimed that in the 
waters off Crimea Russia's Black Sea Fleet surface vessels "continue to pursue 
an extremely defensive posture," with boats barely venturing out of sight of 
the coastline.

   Russia already lost its flagship Moskva in the Black Sea and last month the 
Ukrainian military retook the strategic Snake Island outpost off Ukraine's 
southwestern coast vital for guaranteeing sea lanes out of Odesa, Ukraine's 
biggest port.

   The Russian fleet's "limited effectiveness undermines Russia's overall 
invasion strategy," the British statement said. "This means Ukraine can divert 
resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere."

   The Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, reported 
Tuesday that one civilian was killed in the region in the most recent Russian 
shelling, and two others sustained wounds.

   In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, one civilian was killed and nine 
others were wounded by Russian shelling, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh 
Syniehubov said. He added that the overnight attack on the city was "one of the 
most massive shelling of Kharkiv in recent days."

   Officials in the central region of Dniprotpetrovsk also reported shelling of 
the Nikopol and the Kryvyi Rih districts.

 
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