Key bridge linking Crimea to Russia hit by huge explosion

Section of Kerch bridge collapses after blast, seen as major blow to Russian military prestige

A huge explosion has destroyed part of the Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea, a hated symbol of the Kremlin’s occupation of the southern Ukrainian peninsula, one of Vladimir Putin’s prestige projects and a vital logistical link for the Russian military.

A section of the Ukraine-bound road bridge collapsed into the Kerch strait after the blast, and a fierce fire engulfed a train on the parallel railway connection, creating a vast column of black smoke. The parallel road towards Russia still appeared passable in images from the blast site.

The attack, which came the day after Putin’s 70th birthday, is a major blow to Russian military prestige and its supply chains for the invasion and the defence of Crimea.

Moscow had claimed the bridge was protected by impenetrable layers of defences, ranging from military dolphins to the latest weapons systems, but had also threatened harsh retaliation if it was targeted.

Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for hitting the bridge, but senior officials publicly celebrated and on Saturday morning the only real question about the attack was not who ordered it, but how it was carried out.

The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard miles away, happened about 6am on Saturday while a train was crossing the bridge. Pictures of the damage began emerging soon after.

Russia set up a committee to investigate the attack and within hours said three people had been killed and blamed a truck bomb for the blast. It added that they identified the driver of the exploded truck as a resident of the southern Russian Kuban region.

“According to preliminary data, three people died as a result of the incident. These are, presumably, the passengers of a car that was next to the blown-up truck,” Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement.

“At present, the bodies of two dead men and women have already been raised from the water; their identities are being established.”

Footage shared on Russian Telegram channels and news agencies appeared to show the moment of the explosion with two vehicles, a truck and a car, at the centre of the blast, although it was unclear whether either was responsible or simply caught up in the detonation.

The bridge, which was built on the orders of Putin, and inaugurated in 2018, was a key transport link for carrying military equipment to Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, especially in the south, as well as ferrying troops there.


Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, appeared to suggest Kyiv’s responsibility, tweeting: “Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything belonging to the Russian occupation must be expelled.”

The chair of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, Oleskiy Danilov, tweeted a video of damage to the bridge, spliced with a video of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr President”, in a barely veiled dig at Putin.

The blast on the bridge came amid mounting criticism in Russia of the conduct of his war against Ukraine after a series of increasingly devastating setbacks on the battlefield in recent weeks.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, reports emerged of residents in Crimea rushing to petrol stations, anxious about fuel shortages.

Damage to the road section of the bridge showed one carriageway appearing to have been cleanly severed with no obvious sign of a missile strike, leading some to suggest the attack on the bridge might have been a spectacular act of sabotage. A second carriageway appeared to still be standing, and passable.

Video footage being shared on Russian Telegram channels appeared to show a truck at the centre of the explosion but it was not clear whether the truck itself had exploded or was caught in the blast.

The damage to the railway line leaves Russian forces in the south with a single rail supply line – between Krasnodar and Melitopol – that is now within range of Ukrainian artillery attacks.

Very clear view of the vehicle portion of the bridge that collapsed and the railway portion on fire.

— Rob Lee (@RALee85) October 8, 2022

Video of the fire on the railroad portion of the Crimean Bridge.

— Rob Lee (@RALee85) October 8, 2022

A Moscow-appointed official in Crimea said shipping would not be affected: “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, with the train stationary on the bridge.

Commenting on the attack in a thread on Twitter, analyst and retired Australian general Mick Ryan said: “First dropping a bridge span like this would take a lot of ‘bang’ [explosives] and good demolition design. As a sapper, we plan these kinds of things all the time. The hardest bridges to drop are reinforced concrete like this.

“The amount of explosive required would be more than a few SF personnel could carry. A few trucks, or missiles/bombs would do the trick, if aimed at the right points of the bridge span.

“Either way, it presents the Russians with a significant problem. It doesn’t stop resupply to Crimea [there are boats and the route through Melitopol], but it makes holding Melitopol even more important for the Russians.”

It is too early to ascertain the method of attack and the range of implications of this attack on the Kerch Bridge. It is certainly a punch in the face for Putin on his birthday. A couple of thoughts however in this short (for me) thread. 1/9 🧵

— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) October 8, 2022

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 Putin in 2018, with the railway bridge opening two years later.

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 airbase, amid mounting confidence in Kyiv that it can retake Crimea.

The fire occurred hours after explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv early Saturday, sending towering plumes of smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.

The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, said on Telegram that the early-morning explosions were the result of missile strikes in the centre of the city. He said the blasts sparked fires at one of the city’s medical institutions and a non-residential building. There were no immediate reports of casualties.


Peter Beaumont in Kyiv and Emma Graham-Harrison in Lviv

The GuardianTramp

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