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Ukraine: 9 Russia Warplanes Destroyed  08/10 06:04

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's air force said Wednesday that nine Russian 
warplanes were destroyed in massive explosions at an air base in Crimea amid 
speculation they were the result of a Ukrainian attack that would represent a 
significant escalation in the war.

   Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday's blasts -- or that any 
attack took place.

   Ukrainian officials have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility 
for the explosions, while poking fun at Russia's explanation that munitions at 
the Saki air base caught fire and blew up and also underscoring the importance 
of the peninsula that Moscow annexed eight years ago.

   In his nightly video address several hours after the blasts, Ukrainian 
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to retake the peninsula, saying that "this 
Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea 
and must end with Crimea -- its liberation."

   On Wednesday, Russian authorities sought to downplay the blasts, saying all 
hotels and beaches were unaffected on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist 
destination for many Russians. The explosions, which killed one person and 
wounded 13, sent tourists fleeing in panic as plumes of smoke towered over the 
nearby coastline. They knocked out windows and caused other damage in some 
apartment buildings.

   Russian warplanes have used Saki to strike areas in Ukraine's south on short 
notice, and Ukrainian social networks were abuzz with speculation that 
Ukrainian-fired long-range missiles hit the base.

   Officials in Moscow have long warned Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would 
trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on "decision-making centers" in 
Kyiv.

   A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, who is more outspoken 
than other officials, cryptically said Tuesday that the blasts were caused 
either by a Ukrainian-made long-range weapon or were the work of guerrillas 
operating in Crimea.

   The base on the Black Sea peninsula that dangles off southern Ukraine is at 
least 200 kilometers (some 125 miles) away from the closest Ukrainian position 
-- out of the range of the missiles supplied by the U.S. for use in the HIMARS 
systems.

   The Ukrainian military has successfully used those missiles, with a range of 
80 kilometers (50 miles), to target ammunition and fuel depots, strategic 
bridges and other key targets in Russia-occupied territories. HIMARS could also 
fire longer-range rockets, with a range of up to 300 kilometers (about 185 
miles), that Ukraine has asked for.

   But U.S. authorities have refrained from providing them thus far, fearing 
that it could provoke Russia and widen the conflict. But the explosions in Saki 
raised speculation on social media that Ukraine might have finally got the 
weapons.

   Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said that the Ukrainian forces could 
have struck the Russian air base with a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile 
that has a range of about 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) and could have been 
adapted for use against ground targets and could be fired from Ukrainian 
positions near Mykolaiv northwest of Crimea.

   The Ukrainian military also might have used Western-supplied Harpoon 
anti-ship missiles that can also be used against ground targets and have a 
range of about 300 kilometers (about 185 miles), he said.

   "Official Kyiv has kept mum about it, but unofficially the military 
acknowledges that it was a Ukrainian strike," Zhdanov said.

   If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts, it would be 
the first known major attack on a Russian military site in Crimea, which the 
Kremlin annexed in 2014. A smaller explosion last month at the headquarters of 
Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol was blamed on 
Ukrainian saboteurs using a makeshift drone.

   During the war, Russia has reported numerous fires and explosions at 
munitions storage sites on its territory near the Ukrainian border, blaming 
some of them on Ukrainian strikes. Ukrainian authorities have mostly remained 
silent about the incidents.

   Meanwhile, Russian shelling hit areas across Ukraine on Tuesday night into 
Wednesday, including the central region of Dnipropetrovsk, where 13 people were 
killed and 11 others were wounded, according to the region's governor Valentyn 
Reznichenko.

   Reznichenko said the Russian forces fired at the city of Marganets and a 
nearby village. Dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several 
administrative buildings were damaged by the shelling.

   "It was a terrible night," Reznichenko said. "It's very hard to take bodies 
from under debris. We are facing a cruel enemy who engage in daily terror 
against our cities and villages."

   The Russian forces also continued shelling the nearby city of Nikopol across 
the Dnieper River from the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, 
Europe's largest.

   Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power station, 
Europe's biggest nuclear plant, stoking international fears of a catastrophe.

 
 
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