KYIV, Ukraine — Russian and Ukrainian officials gave conflicting accounts Tuesday of what appeared to be a brazen attack on Russian cruise missiles transported by train in the occupied Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula.
A Ukrainian military spokesperson indicated that Kyiv was behind the explosion late Monday that reportedly destroyed multiple Kalibr cruise missiles near the town of Dzhankoi in northern Crimea, while stopping short of directly claiming responsibility.
Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern operational command, described the strike as a signal to Russia that it should leave the Black Sea peninsula it illegally took from Ukraine in 2014.
Speaking on Ukrainian TV, Humeniuk pointed out Dzhankoi’s importance as a railway junction and said “right now, the way ahead [for Russian forces in Crimea] is clear — they need to make their way out by rail.”
On Monday, a vague statement by Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said multiple missiles carried by rail and destined for submarine launch had been destroyed, without saying outright that Ukraine was responsible or what weapon had been used. However, the agency implied that Kyiv was behind the blast, saying it furthers “the process of Russia’s demilitarization and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for de-occupation.”
On Tuesday, Moscow-installed authorities in Crimea provided a different version, saying Ukrainian drones attacked civilian facilities in Dzhankoi.
Sergei Aksenov, the Kremlin-appointed head of Crimea, said the attack left one civilian wounded but caused “no serious damage.”
Aksenov’s adviser, Oleg Kryuchkov, rejected Ukraine’s claims and said Ukrainian drones had targeted residential areas rather than the railway. Igor Ivin, head of the local administration in Dzhankoi, said the attack damaged power lines, a private house, a store and a college building.
Unconfirmed social media reports late Monday claimed that Russia’s anti-aircraft defenses shot down multiple drones over Crimea. None of the statements could be independently verified.
Throughout the war, reports have surfaced of attacks on Russian military bases and other infrastructure in Crimea, with Ukraine rarely explicitly claiming responsibility but greeting the incidents with jubilation.
In August, explosions rocked a Russian air base in western Crimea, with Ukraine later saying nine warplanes were destroyed. Satellite photos showed that at least seven fighter planes had been blown up and others appeared damaged. Ukrainian officials initially steered clear of taking credit, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki base to catch fire and blow up. Unusually, Ukraine’s top military officer weeks later claimed he had ordered the strikes.
Russian-appointed authorities have also previously reported repeated Ukrainian drone attacks on Crimea, most of which targeted the port of Sevastopol that hosts a major Russian naval base.
These incidents in Crimea, as well as reported drone attacks on Russian territory far from the war’s front lines, have exposed major weaknesses in Moscow’s defenses and embarrassed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reportedly believed the invasion of Ukraine would be quick and easy.
In other developments:
Ukraine’s human rights chief said Kyiv has brought back 15 more Ukrainian children deported by Russian forces from the country’s south and northeast, where Moscow held large swaths of territory earlier in the war.
Dmytro Lubinets spoke days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin, accusing him of bearing personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government, more than 16,000 minors were forcibly taken to Russia and Russian-occupied areas, with some put up for adoption by Russian families and only 308 repatriated so far.
Battles continued in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is trying to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the face of a dogged Ukrainian defense. Local Gov. Petro Kyrylenko said on Ukrainian television that Russian shelling there the previous day killed one civilian and wounded another. Kyrylenko added that another civilian died and two more were wounded in Avdiivka.
Ukrainian authorities have reported on civilian deaths in Bakhmut on a near-daily basis since Moscow’s grinding push to take the city began months ago. Of Bakhmut’s prewar population of around 70,000, only several thousand remain because much of the once-proud mining hub has been pounded to rubble.
Ukraine’s ground forces chief said Bakhmut’s Ukrainian defenders continue to thwart Russian attempts to push on to the city center.
“The defense of Bakhmut continues,” Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi tweeted.
TANKS ON THE WAY
The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone by the fall, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks. Officials said the M1A1 also will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russian forces.
“This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” said Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary.
The Biden administration announced in January that it would send the tanks to Ukraine, after insisting for months that they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.
Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Ryder said the tanks will be refurbished and refitted to make them combat-ready for Ukraine. He declined to say where that work will be done.
It’s unclear how soon the U.S. would begin training Ukrainian forces on how to use, maintain and repair the tanks. The intention would be to have the training of the troops coincide with the refurbishment of the tanks, so both would be ready for battle at the same time later this year, said U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details not publicly provided.
The Pentagon will also have to ensure that Ukrainian forces have an adequate supply chain for all the parts needed to keep the tanks running.
Information for this article was contributed by Karl Ritter and Lolita C. Baldor of The Associated Press.