A Russian attack in Zaporizhzhia overnight hit apartment buildings and killed at least 17 people, a senior official in the Ukrainian city said on Sunday. City council secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said the city was hit by rockets overnight and at least five private houses were destroyed and about 40 were damaged.
The Ukrainian military also confirmed the attack, saying there were dozens of casualties.
The strike came after an explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean peninsula with Russia, damaging a major supply artery for the Kremlin’s war effort in southern Ukraine and hitting a high symbol of Russian power in the region.
Zaporizhzhia has been hit repeatedly in recent weeks and is in the Ukrainian-controlled part of a region that Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed last week in violation of international law.
A part of the region currently under Russian control is home to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest. It has been repeatedly endangered by fighting and has lost its last source of external energy as a result of renewed shelling, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday. It now relies on emergency diesel generators.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Crimean bridge, but it was a major blow to Russia and could lead to an escalation of the conflict. Some Russian lawmakers are calling for Putin to declare it an “anti-terrorist operation,” rather than the phrase “special military operation” that has downplayed the scope of the fight to ordinary Russians.
Putin on Saturday afternoon signed a decree strengthening the security of the bridge and energy infrastructure between Crimea and Russia, putting Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, in charge of the effort.
Hours after the explosion, Russia’s defense ministry announced that the head of the air force, General Sergei Surovikin, would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine.
Surovikin, who was in charge of troops in southern Ukraine this summer, had led Russian forces in Syria and was accused of overseeing a bombardment that destroyed much of Aleppo.
The 19-kilometer (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, on a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is a symbol of Moscow’s claims to Crimea and an essential link to the peninsula, which Russia annexed in Ukraine in 2014.
The $3.6 billion bridge, Europe’s longest, is vital to maintaining Russia’s military operations in southern Ukraine. Putin himself presided over the opening of the bridge in 2018.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a video address, indirectly acknowledged the attack on the bridge but did not address its cause. “It hasn’t been a bad day today and it’s been mostly sunny across our state,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it was cloudy in Crimea. Although it was also hot.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine wants a future “without occupiers. All over our territory, in particular in Crimea.”
Zelenskyy also said that Ukrainian forces advanced or held the line in the east and south, but acknowledged “very, very difficult and very tough fighting” around the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region. where Russian forces have claimed recent gains.
Train and car traffic on the bridge was temporarily suspended. Car traffic resumed Saturday afternoon on one of two links that remained intact, with flow alternating in each direction, Russia-backed Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov said.
Rail traffic slowly resumed. Two passenger trains left the Crimean cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol and headed for the bridge on Saturday evening. Passenger ferry links between Crimea and mainland Russia were relaunched on Sunday.
While Russia seized swaths of northern Crimea early in its invasion of Ukraine and built a land corridor along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counteroffensive to retake that territory. This Russian-controlled territory along the sea includes the Zaporizhzhia region.
The Crimean peninsula is a popular destination for Russian tourists and is home to a Russian naval base. A Russian tourism association estimated that 50,000 tourists were in Crimea on Saturday.