Ukraine’s army struck a bridge that serves as a key supply line between the Crimean peninsula and the southern province of Kherson, Moscow-installed officials in both Russian-occupied regions have said.
Coming weeks into Kyiv’s counteroffensive to recapture territory in the south and east, the strike on Chongar bridge threatens to disrupt operations for Russian forces that are battling Ukrainian troops in areas north of the Azov Sea.
Heavily militarised since it was annexed by Russia in 2014, Crimea has been used as a staging ground since President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine 16 months ago. Moscow’s forces occupy a swath of territory north of the Azov Sea that connects Russia with Crimea.
The surfaces of the bridge’s twin crossings were damaged, said Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor for southern Kherson. His Telegram post included a video that showed him walking alongside a gaping hole in one bridge and pointing to damage to the other nearby crossing.
“According to a preliminary assessment, British Storm Shadow cruise missiles were used,” Saldo said, referring to the long-range cruise missiles that the UK recently delivered to Ukrainian forces.
Russian investigators said four missiles had been fired in the attack on the bridge. No casualties were reported.
“We cannot confirm or deny” the Chongar bridge strikes, Andriy Yusov, an officer in Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the Financial Times. “The leadership of the occupiers bears responsibility for what is happening on the occupied territories.” Ukrainian officials do not admit responsibility for strikes on Russian territory as well as on Crimea.
Yusov pledged that Crimean citizens “who await the return of Ukrainian governorship will certainly get this desirable outcome”.
Chongar bridge is one of several roadways that link Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. The other two main roadways are on the western side of the isthmus, where several bridges crossing water canals are located.
Damaging Russia’s supply lines via the bridge boosts Kyiv’s chances of liberating Kherson as well as southern parts of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions along the Azov Sea, analysts said. Severing the peninsula’s direct link to Russian territory through the occupied territory north of the Azov Sea is regarded as crucial for Kyiv’s chances of regaining the peninsula.
“Without a doubt this strike is in [Ukraine’s] favour within the context of damaging the enemy’s logistics,” said Serhii Kuzan, chair of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Centre think-tank in Kyiv. “It’s very good that there is a capability to so precisely strike such targets,” he added, without directly confirming the use of Storm Shadow missiles.
“This does not mean that the bridges are destroyed — but their capacity is diminished,” he said. “This is a route through which most troops and military equipment are funnelled” to southern parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, where Kyiv’s counteroffensive is under way.
Equipped with Nato-grade tanks, armoured vehicles and longer-range weapons systems from its western allies, Ukrainian forces have made modest gains against heavily fortified Russian positions during recent weeks. Officials claim that at least eight villages and more than 113,000 sq km of territory have been liberated in southern and eastern regions, where Russian forces occupy about 18 per cent of state territory.
Kuzan drew parallels with Ukrainian strikes using western multiple-launch rocket systems on the Antonivsky bridge last autumn. The bridge connected the city of Kherson with provincial territories across the Dnipro river to the south.
The strikes on the bridge, which has since collapsed, undermined Russia’s ability to supply forces on the western side of the Dnipro river, triggering their retreat south and Kyiv’s liberation of the provincial capital in November.