Traffic resumes on Crimea bridge, probe into blast under way

The 19km (12-mile) Kerch Bridge, a key supply route for Russian forces, was hit by a blast on Saturday, killing three people.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows damage to the Kerch Bridge
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows damage to the Kerch Bridge, which connects the Crimean Peninsula with Russia crossing a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and rail cars on fire on Saturday, October 8, 2022 [Maxar Technologies via AP Photo]

Traffic has resumed on a key road and rail bridge linking Russia with Crimea hours after it was partially destroyed by a truck explosion, and an investigation is under way to find out who was behind the attack.

The 19km (12-mile) Kerch bridge was hit by a blast around dawn on Saturday, killing three people, setting several oil tankers ablaze and collapsing two car lanes, Russian investigators said.

The bridge, which is seen as a symbol of the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, is a vital supply route for Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. It was opened with great fanfare by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018.

Putin on Saturday decreed tighter security for the bridge and the infrastructure supplying electricity and natural gas to Crimea, and ordered an investigation.

The Kerch bridge blast came a day after Putin’s 70th birthday and coincided with Russia’s appointment of General Sergey Surovikin to lead the war in Ukraine, the third senior military appointment in a week.

The explosion drew celebrations from Ukrainians and others on social media, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky made no direct mention of it in his nightly address and officials made no claim of responsibility.

INTERACTIVE - Vital Kerch Bridge - Russia Ukraine War - Crimea bridge damaged
(Al Jazeera)

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin told reporters that “traffic has been fully restored” on the bridge’s railway, according to state news agency Ria Novosti, without specifying when operations resumed.

Khusnullin had confirmed that the resumption is for “both freight and passenger traffic” in an earlier post on Telegram, and said one of the destroyed lanes would be restored “in the near future”.

Local officials had said earlier in the day that the bridge had been reopened to motor traffic, with vehicles subject to stringent screening, while rail operator Grand Service Express said the first trains had left the peninsula for Moscow and St Petersburg.

‘Emergency situation’

While some in Moscow hinted at Ukrainian “terrorism”, state media continued to call it an “emergency situation”.

In his address, Zelenskyy spoke of a “sunny” future for Ukrainians, one without occupiers, “in particular in the Crimea”.

Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak appeared to suggest that Moscow had a hand in the blast.

“It is worth noting that the truck that detonated, according to all indications, entered the bridge from the Russian side. So the answers should be sought in Russia,” he said.

Officials in Moscow stopped short of blaming Kyiv, but a Russian-installed official in Crimea pointed the finger at “Ukrainian vandals”.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall reporting from Moscow said Moscow was “trying to take its time” before officially announcing who was behind the explosion, adding that divers had gone underwater to search for “clues”

“Above the waterline, a lot of inspection is going on and hopefully something might come up from the investigation later today according to Russian officials,” he said.

Attacks on Zaporizhzhia

On Sunday, in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, just 125km (80 miles) from a Russian-held nuclear power plant, overnight shelling caused dozens of casualties, Ukraine’s armed forces said.

“Information about victims is being confirmed, but it is already known about dozens of dead or injured,” the military’s central command said on its Facebook page.

At least 17 people had been killed, with roads and apartment buildings damaged, city official Anatoliy Kurtev said earlier, in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the reports.

Meanwhile, the battle in eastern Ukraine is intensifying as Kyiv’s forces try to advance into the Luhansk region. Thousands of Russian troops have retreated from the area in recent days, leaving behind extensive destruction in villages and forests.

Ukraine has recaptured large swaths of territory from Russian forces following a counteroffensive it launched last month. Kyiv has vowed to retake four regions in the country’s east and south annexed by Russia.

A passenger train and cars drive on the Kerch bridge, after an explosion destroyed part of it, in the Kerch Strait, Crimea, October 9, 2022.
A passenger train and cars drive on the Kerch bridge, after an explosion destroyed part of it [Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies