April 29 (Reuters) – A Ukrainian drone strike set fire to a Russian fuel storage facility in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Saturday morning, sending a large column of black smoke into the sky in the latest attack on the Russian-occupied peninsula.
The Moscow-based city governor blamed Ukraine and later said the fire had been put out before the disaster struck.
A Ukrainian military intelligence official said more than 10 oil product tanks with a capacity of around 40,000 tons intended for use by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet were destroyed, RBC Ukraine reported.
The attack came as Ukraine prepares for a long-promised counteroffensive to push Russian forces back from territory they seized since the invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine says control of all of its legal territory, including Crimea, is a key condition for any peace deal. Russian forces occupied the peninsula in 2014.
Moscow accused kyiv of sending waves of aerial and maritime drones to attack Crimea.
Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said that only one drone hit the oil tanks.
“The enemy… wanted to take Sevastopol by surprise, as usual, by organizing a sneak attack in the morning,” Razvozhaev wrote on the Telegram app. Russian firefighters have shown how to beat a big fire “and prevent a catastrophe,” he added.
Ukraine lacks longer-range missiles that can hit targets in places like Sevastopol, but has been developing drones to overcome this hurdle.
Ukrainian officials rarely claim responsibility for the explosions at military sites in Crimea, though they sometimes celebrate them using euphemistic language.
Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian military official, did not say Ukraine carried out the attack. Instead, he told RBC the blast was “God’s punishment” for a Russian attack in the Ukrainian city of Uman on Friday that killed 23 people.
“This punishment will be long-lasting. In the near future, it is better for all residents of temporarily occupied Crimea not to be near military installations and facilities supplying the aggressor’s army,” Yusov was quoted as saying by RBC.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said kyiv would do everything possible to ensure that those responsible for the Uman attack are brought to account as soon as possible.
“You are all terrorists and murderers and you must all be punished,” he said in an evening video address.
Zelenskiy did not refer directly to months of fighting over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the focus of repeated Russian attacks that have slowly closed in on the center.
The attacks are largely led by Wagner’s private army. His founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his forces had advanced between 100 (300 feet) and 150 meters on Saturday, saying pro-kyiv units now control only 3 square kilometers (1.2 square miles).
Prigozhin, speaking in a voicemail posted on Telegram, repeated his complaints that Moscow was not sending his men enough ammunition. Prigozhin has made overly optimistic statements about Wagner’s military successes in the past and Reuters could not immediately verify his latest claim.
Information from Reuters; Edited by William Mallard
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