A series of loud blasts were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase in the western part of occupied Crimea in late afternoon on Aug. 9, according to multiple media reports.
Shortly after the explosions took place, videos of black smoke rising above what is believed to be Russia's Saki Air Base in Novofedorivka captured from a nearby beach began appearing on the internet. Other videos repeatedly shared on Telegram channels show local residents fleeing their homes following the mysterious explosions.
Three local witnesses told Reuters that they heard loud explosions from the direction of the Russian airbase and saw black smoke rising into the sky. The news agency also reported, citing witnesses, that at least 12 explosions of varying intensity were heard within a minute, followed by what was reportedly the loudest blast about half an hour later. Ukrainska Pravda reported, citing local residents, that explosions continued to be heard in the settlement later in the day.
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that there were explosions at about 3:20 p.m. on the territory of the Saki airfield but claimed that they were caused by ammunition detonation. The ministry also claimed that while several munitions detonated at a bunded storage area, no one was injured at the scene of the explosion and no aviation equipment at the site was damaged.
Contrary to the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim, its proxies in the occupied peninsula reported that one person was killed and five people were injured by the explosions. It is not clear whether the injured victims were workers at the airfield or civilians living in the area.
Ukraine has not commented in detail on the blasts yet.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry published a statement following the reports of explosions saying that it couldn't "establish the cause" of the smoke.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that Aug. 9 marks the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, to which the peninsula’s ethnoreligious communities such as Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks belong to.
“Today’s explosions in Novofedorivka are yet another reminder of to whom Crimea belongs to,” Vereshchuk said, without going further into details. “It (Crimea) is Ukraine!” the official added.
Following the explosions, videos showing large traffic jams on the Crimean Bridge, which connects the occupied peninsula with Russia, appeared on social media as many presumably tried to leave Crimea.
This compilation of the videos posted on social media shows the smoke rising above what is believed to be Russia's Saki Air Base in Novofedorivka in the western part of the occupied Crimean Peninsula on Aug. 9.
Ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Moscow has been actively using Crimea as a base to launch missiles at various regions across Ukraine.
According to an investigation by the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Schemes program published in late March, Russian forces were using almost all airfields in occupied Crimea, in addition to those in Belarus and western Russia, that are suitable for the purpose.
In its report, the publication revealed that Russia was using about 40 airfields, with the Saki airfield being one of the key sites for firing missiles at Ukraine.
Earlier on July 16, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov said in an interview with the Times he was convinced that Ukraine would be able to repel Russia’s attacks in the Black Sea and eventually take back Crimea. But such ambitious plans, he said, would depend on the amount of longer-range weapons the West chooses to provide.
While de-occupying Crimea is not expected to happen anytime soon, Ukraine has already begun its counter-offensive campaign in the south, centered around Kherson Oblast which fell shortly after the first days of the all-out war. Ukraine is focused on cutting off Russian supply lines to its forward positions, especially by using the U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that allows Ukraine’s military to strike targets from distances away.
Read also: Why is Russia so vulnerable to HIMARS in Ukraine?
In a possible prelude to a much-anticipated large-scale counter-offensive, Ukraine has been laying the groundwork to take back occupied Kherson. On Aug. 8, Ukraine successfully struck two key logistic connections in the city, the Antonivsky and the Kakhovsky bridges.
Ukraine has so far taken back 53 settlements in Kherson Oblast since the start of the counter-offensive campaign, Acting Governor of Kherson Oblast Dmytro Butriy said on Aug. 2. The region is located just above Crimea and Kherson’s Antonivsky Bridge has been the main transit route for Russian supplies coming in from the peninsula.
Read also: Russia masses forces in south ahead of counterattack
In February 2014, Russian forces captured strategic sites across Ukraine’s Crimea and eventually staged a referendum to illegally annex the peninsula. Much of the international community has condemned Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea, continuing to recognize it as Ukrainian territory.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Ukraine will fight back until it gets all of the territories back, including those occupied since 2014 such as Crimea.
Note from the author:
Hi, this is Asami Terajima.
While writing this article, I couldn’t stop thinking of the beautiful sunset I saw over the sea in Yalta, a city in southern Crimea, just months before Russia invaded the peninsula in February 2014. Eight years later, Ukraine is facing its darkest hour and nothing has been more important to me than keeping the world informed on the latest developments happening at home. I moved to Ukraine when I was small and it means a lot to me that I can be here, helping the country that I have come to love so much. To support our work, please consider donating to the Kyiv Independent and becoming our patron. Thank you!