Huge oil depot fires in Russia and Ukraine as both sides press on in the drone war

  • Drones strike oil depots near Crimea in central Ukraine
  • Ukraine says it has shot down 21 of the 26 Iranian-made planes
  • Strikes intensify as Ukraine’s counterattack approaches

(Reuters) – Oil depots in both Russia and Ukraine were ablaze on Wednesday as a drone war targeting infrastructure escalated ahead of Kiev’s planned spring counteroffensive to try to end the full-scale invasion of Moscow.

Dozens of firefighters battled a huge blaze that Russian authorities blamed on a Ukrainian drone that crashed into an oil terminal on the Russian side of a bridge it has built for occupied Crimea.

In Ukraine, a fuel depot caught fire after a suspected Russian drone strike on the city of Kropyvnytskyi, in the center of the country.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, an office building in the southern Dnipropetrovsk region was hit by a drone and caught fire. Ukraine said it had shot down 21 of the 26 Iranian-made planes.

The two sides have been launching long-range strikes since last week, apparently in anticipation of Ukraine’s next counterattack, which is expected to be one of the most decisive phases of the war.

After a lull that lasted nearly two months, Russia launched a wave of missiles before dawn last Friday, including a missile that killed 23 civilians while they were sleeping in an apartment building in the city of Uman, hundreds of miles from the front.

A suspected Ukrainian drone strike caused a fire at a Russian oil terminal in occupied Crimea on Saturday. On Monday, Russia hit dozens of homes and an industrial enterprise in the Dnipropetrovsk region, which Kiev did not specify. The explosions derailed freight trains in Russia’s Bryansk region bordering Ukraine for the past two days in a row.

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Moscow says its long-range attacks hit military targets, though it has not provided any evidence to support this.

Kiev does not comment on incidents in Russia or occupied Crimea, but says the destruction of the infrastructure supporting the Russian army in Ukraine is part of the preparation for its planned ground offensive, and is ready to start at any time.

Fire of the highest degree

Flames and black smoke billowed above large tanks adorned with red warnings of “flammable” in videos posted on Russian social media about the burning fuel depot near the Crimean Bridge.

“The fire is rated the highest difficulty,” Veniamin Kondratyev, governor of the Krasnodar region, said on messaging app Telegram, adding that there were no casualties.

He said 188 firefighters were fighting the blaze and attacking it with foam. He called on the people to remain calm and said there was no need to order the evacuation of the nearby village of Volna.

Russia’s Tass news agency, citing emergency services, said the fire was caused by a drone that crashed into the facility. Moscow also blamed a drone for a massive fire on Saturday in Crimea, at Sevastopol, the naval base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

In Ukraine, the governor of the central Kirovohrad region said that three Russian drones attempted to bomb an oil facility in the region’s main city of Kropyvnitsky. Prosecutors said a huge fire broke out.

Ukraine says its air defenses have neutralized most of the recent attacks, especially around the capital, Kiev.

“All enemy targets have been identified and shot down in the airspace around the capital,” Kiev’s military administration said Wednesday morning.

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Air raid sirens sounded for several hours in Kiev, the surrounding area and most of eastern Ukraine, with the sky only whistling at dawn.

Over the past five months, Ukrainian ground forces have largely maintained a defensive posture while Russia has launched a massive, largely unsuccessful winter offensive, capturing few new territories despite Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since World War II.

For the planned counterattack, Kiev set out to build up a force that included thousands of fresh troops trained at Western bases and armed with hundreds of new tanks and armored vehicles supplied from the West. Russia dug heavy fortifications along the front line.

(Reporting by Lydia Kelly from Melbourne); Edited by Clarence Fernandez

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