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Kyiv drone strikes Crimea munitions depot as West fears widening conflict

MOSCOW: A Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea Saturday blew up an ammunition depot, sparking evacuations on the Moscow-annexed peninsula and halting rail traffic, just five days after drones damaged Russia’s symbolic bridge across the Kerch Strait.

Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, has been targeted by Kyiv throughout Moscow’s 17-month long Ukraine offensive but has come under more intense, increased attacks in recent weeks.

In a counteroffensive launched to retake lands lost to Moscow, Kyiv has increasingly made clear — despite some Western unease — that it aims to also take back the Black Sea peninsula.

Less than 24 hours later, the Moscow-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said an “enemy” drone had detonated an ammunition depot. “As a result of an attack by an enemy drone on the Krasnogvardeisky district, an ammunition depot detonated,” Aksyonov said on Telegram, referring to an area that lies inland at the centre of Crimea. He ordered the evacuation of people living within five kilometres of the zone.Road traffic across the Crimea bridge — one of the few ways to get out of Crimea as flights have been cancelled during the conflict — only resumed Saturday after a Ukrainian attack damaged the bridge Tuesday, killing two people.

The attacks came a day before Putin was due to meet his closest ally — Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko — for the first time since the latter helped end a dramatic mutiny by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group.

The pair are due to meet in Putin’s home city of Saint Petersburg. The attacks on Crimea have come as many of Kyiv’s Western allies feel uncomfortable about Ukrainian ambitions to take back the annexed land, fearing a larger scale conflict with Russia. They have also signified a sharp escalation in the Black Sea area.

Ukraine has said it was looking for ways to continue a grain corridor in the Black Sea, suggesting a patrol by border countries in the area. Zelensky said he discussed the “unblocking” of the corridor with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Saturday. The pair had spoken about “future steps necessary for unblocking and (the) sustainable operation of the Black Sea grain corridor,” he said, without giving further details.

On the battlefield, Moscow’s forces said Saturday that they had pushed back three Ukrainian attacks in the eastern villages of Urozhayniy and Priyutniy.

Ukraine said Russia shelled Kupyansk — in the north-east Kharkiv region where Russia has gone on a limited offensive this week — Saturday, killing a 57-year-old woman. Russia also alleged that Kyiv had used notorious cluster munitions on the Russian border village of Zhuravlevka and that the controversial weapon had killed one of its journalists in a frontline village. The Russian army announced that Rostislav Zhuravlev, a war correspondent working for the state RIA Novosti news agency, died from his wounds after coming under fire from cluster munitions in occupied southern Ukraine.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, meanwhile, said “three cluster munitions from a multiple rocket launcher were fired (by the Ukrainian army) at the village of Zhuravlevka” on Friday.

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