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Blasts Hit Russian-Held Territory as Ukraine Intensifies Attacks Beyond Enemy Lines

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 8/19/2022 Ian Lovett, Evan Gershkovich

ODESSA, Ukraine—A series of explosions rocked Crimea and a border region inside of Russia overnight, punctuating a new phase of the war in which Ukraine is targeting enemy bases and infrastructure deep behind the front line.

An ammunition depot in Russia’s southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine ignited late Thursday, the region’s governor wrote on his social-media pages. Around the same time, unverified videos on social media showed billowing clouds of smoke and fire in the city of Kadiivka in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, which Russian forces captured in early July. Russian-installed authorities in Luhansk said Ukrainian forces had struck the city with U.S.-supplied Himars mobile rocket launchers.

Air-defense systems were also activated in the occupied city of Kerch, Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Russian-appointed head of Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, wrote on his Telegram channel.

Residents in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, later reported explosions at the local military airfield. Sevastopol’s governor, Mikhail Razvozhayev, wrote on his Telegram channel that a drone had been shot down near the airfield but denied the airfield had suffered an attack.

Ukrainian officials have typically stopped short of claiming responsibility for successful attacks behind Russian lines, but they have hinted at involvement. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych listed on Twitter all of the sites that had been targeted and wrote: “As you understand, we have nothing to do with it.”

Russian officials didn’t immediately comment on the series of blasts.

On Wednesday, Mykhailo Podolyak, another adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, had suggested that the Kerch bridge connecting Crimea to mainland Russia is a legitimate military target for Ukraine. Mr. Kryuchkov wrote Thursday that Kerch and the bridge weren’t in danger.

The explosions near Russian ammunition depots, airfields and bridges appeared to intensify the strategy Ukrainian forces have adopted in recent weeks—hitting Moscow’s supply lines in hopes of starving Russian troops west of the Dnipro River in the occupied Kherson region of resources and ultimately forcing them to retreat.

Thursday was the first day since early July without evidence or Russian claims of any territorial gains, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

The two sides are also trading accusations about plans to attack the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station.

Lt. Gen. Igor Kirillov, chief of Russia’s radiation, chemical and biological defense forces, said on Thursday that Ukraine was planning to cause “a minor accident at the nuclear power plant and, thereby, disrupting the normal and safe operation of the nuclear power plant, blaming Russia for this.”

Ukrainian intelligence, meanwhile, posted on Facebook that employees from Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, have been advised to stay away from the plant on Friday, because the Russians are planning to “organize a real terrorist attack on Europe’s largest nuclear facility.”

Neither side provided any evidence for their claims, but alarm about the safety of the plant is growing worldwide.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday that shelling of the site, which he blamed on the Ukrainian military, created the danger of a large-scale catastrophe, according to the Kremlin.

On Thursday, after meeting Mr. Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was gravely concerned about the safety of the facility and reiterated his call for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to be immediately allowed to visit the plant from Kyiv.

“Military equipment and personnel should be withdrawn from the plant,” he said. “The area needs to be demilitarized.” The U.S. and European Union have also called for a demilitarized zone around the facility.

Russian officials have said inspectors should travel to the plant via Russian territory, which Ukraine opposes. In addition, they have refused to withdraw troops from the facility, saying they are necessary to defend it against potential attacks.

In his call with Mr. Macron, Mr. Putin agreed to the deployment of IAEA inspectors to the site, according to Mr. Macron’s office. The Kremlin said Mr. Putin confirmed Russia’s readiness to provide the inspectors with the necessary assistance.

Gen. Kirillov said on Thursday that Russia would also consider taking the plant offline entirely. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of scheming to steal electricity from the plant, which supplied approximately a fifth of Ukraine’s power before the war, and reroute it to serve the Russian grid.

In a video posted online late Thursday night after his meeting with Mr. Guterres and Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Zelensky called on the foreign leaders to heap pressure on Russia to withdraw from the plant. He also decried Russian plans to hold votes in occupied Ukrainian territory on whether to join the Russian federation.

“I called on both Mr. President and Mr. Secretary-General to voice the strictest possible position regarding Russia’s planned pseudo-referendums in the occupied territory,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Any pseudo-referendum will be a slap in the face to the international community.”

Meanwhile, shelling from both sides continued across the country.

Ukraine’s military southern command said Friday it had conducted four strikes on Moscow’s bases in the Kherson region, and said it had destroyed repairs Russians were making to a key bridge in the region.

Twelve people were killed in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, by shelling Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, Mr. Zelensky said.

Residential buildings were hit by Russian rockets midday on Thursday, military officials said. And the Sumy region in the north was hit with more than 100 pieces of ordinance Thursday night, according to the governor.

Write to Ian Lovett at and Evan Gershkovich at


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