A huge explosion rocked a strategically important bridge linking Russia and the Crimean Peninsula early Saturday, bringing down sections of road and causing fuel tanker wagons to catch fire on a train.
A day after President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 70th birthday, the Kerch Strait Bridge, which has been a symbol of his illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, was partially destroyed by the blast, which was triggered by a truck being “blown up,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
This “resulted in the ignition of seven fuel tanks of a train heading towards the Crimean Peninsula,” the statement said, adding that two sections of road bridge had partially collapsed, but that the arch spanning the Kerch Strait, the waterway through which ships travel between the Black and Azov seas, had not been damaged.
In a later statement, the committee said three people had been killed in the blast. It added that the bodies of a man and a woman had been found in the water. No mention was made about the third victim.
Images of the bridge posted on social media appeared to show a portion of the roadway had fallen into the water beneath the bridge, and flames and smoke could be seen rising from rail cars above.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian governor of Crimea, later said on social media that the road bridge was still intact in one direction, although traffic had been suspended while the damage was assessed. In a later statement, he said that repair work would begin immediately.
Putin has instructed the government to create a state commission to investigate the incident, the Interfax news agency reported, citing Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Asked about how long it would take to repair the bridge, he said there were “no forecasts yet.”
Without directly claiming responsibility for the explosion, Ukrainian officials have been posting gleeful messages to social media about the blast.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said it was just “the beginning” in a post on his Twitter account.
“Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything that is stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled,” he wrote.
The Security Service of Ukraine, in the meantime, said the bridge “beautifully burns,” in a Telegram post.
Russian lawmakers voiced their displeasure at the explosion on Europe’s longest bridge that cost $3.6 billion and was opened with great fanfare by Putin in May 2018, four years after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Taking the wheel of a truck, Putin led a convoy of vehicles across it.