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Russia-Ukraine war: Explosions, fire at Crimea depot prompt thousands to evacuate

Smoke rises after explosions at the Saky airfield near the Novofedorovka settlement in Russian-occupied Crimea on August 9. A similar situation unfolded on Tuesday with explosions and fire at an ammunition depot. Photo courtesy of Press Office of Head of Crimea/EPA-EFE
Smoke rises after explosions at the Saky airfield near the Novofedorovka settlement in Russian-occupied Crimea on August 9. A similar situation unfolded on Tuesday with explosions and fire at an ammunition depot. Photo courtesy of Press Office of Head of Crimea/EPA-EFE

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Explosions rocked a military depot and fires broke out in the area of Russia-annexed Crimea on Tuesday, prompting thousands of people to evacuate amid more fighting on the contested peninsula.

The blasts and the fires were reported at an ammunition depot in Crimea, the second attack on the Russian-occupied peninsula since the war began in February.

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Moscow-controlled Crimea Administrator Sergei Aksyonov said the explosions injured at least two people in the village of Maiskoye. One report said that authorities evacuated about 2,000 people after the blasts.

"The evacuation of residents is underway, people are taken out of the 5-kilometer zone from the incident to ensure safety," Aksyonov said, according to CNN.

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Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak called the explosions at the Crimean ammo depot "demilitarization in action."

"Morning near Dzhankoi began with explosions," he said, according to CNN. "A reminder: Crimea of the normal country is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves."

Russian officials said they are investigating the blasts, but reported no serious casualties.

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They initially said the explosions were caused by a fire in the area, but later blamed them on "sabotage."

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Russia annexed Crimea after a referendum in 2014 -- a move that was condemned by most of the international community. Most nations still do not view Crimea as Russian territory.

Britain's defense ministry said Tuesday that Russia's Black Sea fleet is pursuing a defensive posture with patrols that are generally limited to waters within sight of the Crimean coast.

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"The Black Sea Fleet continues to use long-range cruise missiles to support ground offensives but is currently struggling to exercise effective sea control," the ministry said in a tweet. "It has lost its flagship Moskva, a significant portion of its naval aviation combat jets and control of Snake Island.

"The Black Fleet's currently limited effectiveness undermines Russia's overall invasion strategy, in part because the amphibious threat to Odessa has now been largely neutralized," it added. "This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere."

Ukrainian officials said Tuesday its forces hit a base in eastern Ukraine that's been used by Russian-supported private military organization the Wagner Group.

The attack happened in the Russian-occupied town of Popasna in the Luhansk region on Sunday. The Wagner Group has been key for Russia in providing extra manpower in the ongoing Ukraine war.

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Meanwhile, more shelling was reported Tuesday around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near Enerhodar, despite serious safety warnings from top experts and United Nations officials.

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