CRIMEA was hit by massive new explosions early today in the latest suspected Ukrainian sabotage attack on Putin’s forces.
Some 2,000 people were evacuated from a nearby village after an ammunition depot erupted in a gigantic fireball blast deep inside Russian-controlled territory.
It follows a devastating series of explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea last week that is said to have destroyed 20 jets and caused £1bn of damage.
Russia sought to play down today’s blasts in the Dzhankoi district, which it said was linked to an electricity substation.
Officials in Putin’s puppet regional government later admitted a “detonation of ammunition” took place at a “temporary” Russian military site.
Dzhankoi houses a large railway and road hub which is likely to be used as a major supply route to front lines in Ukraine‘s southern Kherson region, analysts say.
Immediately there was speculation a crack team of Ukrainian special forces or “partisan” resistance fighters triggered the explosions.
Kyiv stopped short of claiming responsibility, but presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called it “demilitarisation in action”.
He tweeted: “A reminder: Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouse explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves.”
Meanwhile a senior Kyiv official said it was the work of “an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines”, according to New York Times reporter Michael Schwirtz.
The site is more than 100 miles from Ukrainian positions in Kherson, well out of range of US-supplied Himars rocket launchers.
It was unclear how many explosions rocked the area, or whether any missiles or drones were used.
Telegram social media channels shared images of huge orange fireball flashes and mushroom clouds rising into the sky.
Some reports suggested railway cars packed with munitions had been targeted.
One Ukrainian account boasted: “Report from temporarily occupied Crimea – a well-aimed hit at a military unit in Qalay (renamed Azovske) in the Dzhankoi district.
“At 07.41, they hit an ammunition depot, with the sound of explosions all over the steppe.”
Another video showed the blasts from the nearby village of Maiske, which was evacuated as officials set up a three-mile cordon.
At least two people were injured, according to early reports.
Sergey Aksyonov, head of the pro-Putin regime in Crimea, said on Telegram: “Details of the accident are getting established.
“So far we (have) data on two victims, one man with shrapnel wounds, one crushed by a wall.
“Their lives are not in danger, fortunately.”
He added the main railway route carrying summer tourists to Crimea from the Russian mainland had been halted.
Igor Girkin, a former staunchly pro-Putin commander but now an arch critic of his war tactics, also shared images of the blasts.
He claimed it was clear there had been “another sabotage in Crimea”, probably by kamikaze drone.
He said an electricity transformer station was “burned down” and a large ammunition depot was also blown up.
Ex-spook Girkin said: “Presumably, the strikes were carried out by kamikaze drones, but sabotage is possible, too.”
He forecast the Russian defence ministry would blame the infernos on “non-compliance with fire safety rules” to hide the shame of another successful Ukrainian attack.
And he added: “My son serves in Dzhankoi. Scary.”
Last week another series of explosions rocked the Saki air base on the west coast of the Crimea peninsula.
It sent up a huge mushroom cloud as terrified sunbathers sprinted from a nearby beach.
Nearly two dozen Su-24 and Su-30 warplanes were reduced to charred wrecks, pictures showed.
Ukraine refused to say if it was behind that attack, which if confirmed would be the first in Crimea since Putin annexed it in 2014.
There were unverified claims of a missile strike, but other sources said it was sabotage by a team on the ground.
President Volodomyr Zelensky stoked the speculation by vowing: “Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up.”
He added: “This is just the beginning.
“Russia has turned our peninsula – which has always been and always will be one of the best places in Europe – into one of the most dangerous places.”
A smaller explosion last month at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs using a makeshift drone.
Russia claimed the Saki explosions were caused by workers smoking in breach of fire safety rules, and denied any planes were damaged.
The official explanation was widely ridiculed, and surfaced again today as one Ukrainian social media user joked of the Dzhankoi blasts: “Undoubtedly another smoking incident.”
Others claimed – without apparent evidence – that a Ukrainian Tochka missile or special longer-range Himars artillery rocket was used.
The Himars launchers – recently supplied by the US – have dramatically increased the range and accuracy of Ukraine’s firepower.
The rockets were used to blitz key bridges bringing supplies from Crimea to the mainland fighting zone.
Himars was also reportedly used to blow up a base used by Putin’s bloodthirsty Wagner Group mercenaries in the eastern Donbas region.
Their secret HQ was targeted after a Russian “war correspondent” accidentally gave away its location online, reports said.