ODESA, Ukraine — Damage from a series of explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea appeared greater than the Kremlin has described, as officials in the Russian-occupied peninsula declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and said dozens of nearby homes and commercial structures had been hit .
After the explosions on Tuesday, which a senior Ukrainian military official said were the work of Ukrainian troops, the Russian Defense Ministry acted quickly to downplay the extent of the damage, saying no equipment had been destroyed and that no casualties had been reported.
The claims were contradicted by a video of the scene and by a count of damage done by officials in Crimea, a strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Kremlin-installed Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov said on Wednesday 252 people had been transferred to shelters due to damage to their homes. At least 62 apartment buildings and 20 commercial buildings were damaged by the blast, a statement on Aksyonov’s Telegram page said, and officials were still cataloging damage to private homes.
Mr Askyonov declared a state of emergency, apparently intended to speed up the reconstruction process. At least one person was killed and more than a dozen others were injured, officials said.
Damage to the base itself was harder to assess, but a video that surfaced in the aftermath, verified by DailyExpertNews, showed the charred nosecone of a jet fighter, whose fuselage was a black, shapeless mass.
Although Ukraine has not officially assumed responsibility for the explosions, a senior Ukrainian military official said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s special forces — along with local partisan resistance fighters loyal to the Kiev government — were behind the explosions. The explosions set off fireballs that startled beachgoers at a nearby Black Sea resort.
The official said the air base, Saki, on the western coast of Crimea, has been regularly used by Russian warplanes that have attacked Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss delicate military matters, the official would not reveal the type of weapon used in the attack, saying only that “a device of Ukrainian origin was used”.
The explosions are potentially significant because any Ukrainian attack on Russian forces in the Crimean peninsula would significantly expand Ukraine’s offensive efforts. So far, Ukrainian forces have largely focused on pushing back Russian troops from areas occupied after February 24, when their invasion began.
Ukraine has few weapons that can reach the peninsula, apart from planes that risk being immediately shot down by the heavy Russian air defenses in the region. The air base, which is near the city of Novofedorivka, is about 200 miles from the nearest Ukrainian military position.
Videos verified and reviewed by DailyExpertNews showed a plume of smoke rising from the air base just before at least three explosions: two in quick succession and a third moments later. What caused the blast is not clear from the videos.
The senior Ukrainian official declined to reveal whether local resistance forces known as partisans carried out the attack or assisted Ukrainian military units in attacking the base, as has sometimes happened in other Russian-occupied areas.
To reach targets deep behind enemy lines, Ukraine has increasingly turned to guerrillas in those areas, officials said. Partisans, for example, have helped Ukrainian troops attack Russian bases and ammunition depots in the Kherson region, Ukrainian officials say.
The Russian defense ministry said in a statement that the explosion was caused by the detonation of stored fighter-aircraft ammunition at the base. While the ministry did not speculate about the possible involvement of Ukrainian troops, a decision by Mr Aksyonov to raise the terrorist threat level to yellow suggested officials were concerned about security on the peninsula.
“This measure is solely prophylactic because the situation in the region is under complete control,” Aksyonov said on Tuesday.
Christian Triebert reporting contributed.