A Russian naval base in occupied Crimea was rocked by an explosion on Friday as Ukraine appeared to launch its largest ever drone attack.
Plumes of smoke were spotted rising above a military training base in Perevalne, near the city of Simferopol, where Russia’s 126th Coastal Defence Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet was stationed.
Both Ukrainian and Russian sources suggested drones had slipped through Moscow’s defences to damage the facility.
The Russian defence ministry earlier said its forces had “thwarted” an attack after its forces downed 42 drones near the occupied peninsula.
The attack would be Kyiv’s largest aerial assault on Crimea to date and comparable to many of Russia’s biggest barrages on Ukrainian cities.
It was described as the “most massive drone raid on Crimea in recent months” by one popular Russian blogger.
Ivan Federov, the Ukrainian mayor of the Russian-controlled city of Melitopol, announced the apparent explosions at the military base in Perevalne.
He wrote on the Telegram messaging app that 300 injured Russian troops were sent to a hospital in nearby Simferopol.
Russian military blogger Boris Rozhin, who has 830,000 subscribers, said most of the Ukrainian drones had been shot down or taken out by electronic warfare systems.
Nine drones had “managed to fly to the Perevalne training ground, where they were jammed by the electronic warfare. But several of these UAVs landed on the site”, damaging two Kamaz lorries, he added.
“There is no data on casualties or damage to infrastructure.”
Russia’s defence ministry on Friday morning claimed nine of the drones were “destroyed over the territory of the Republic of Crimea”, appearing to confirm Mr Rozhin’s report.
It said 33 more “were suppressed by electronic warfare and crashed without reaching the target”.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that “relevant air defence systems work quite effectively” when asked about the strikes.
He described the recent spate of Ukrainian drone attacks as “terrorist activity – because for the most part, it is aimed at residential buildings”.
“Obviously the same terrorist activity is also relevant for Crimea. And all necessary measures are being taken there,” he said.
In the past week, Ukrainian forces have significantly increased attacks on Russian targets in Crimea, targeting its military logistics and efforts to resupply occupational forces in southern Ukraine.
The strikes on Friday marked the third consecutive day of Ukrainian assaults on the peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Major-General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in a broadcast interview that he hoped the increased focus on Crimea would remind people that its liberation is “not far off”.
“It will not end there,” he added. “There will be a ground operation, there will be the return of our territories.”
On Thursday, Ukrainian commandos damaged a Russian Air Force radar base on the Crimean coast in a daring amphibious raid.
Special forces operatives landed in small boats near the resort village of Mayak, on the peninsula’s western tip, before knocking out several radar systems, shutting them down for months.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s HUR, said the commandos had also killed or seriously wounded at least 30 Russian troops before escaping.
On Wednesday, Ukraine announced it had destroyed an S-400 missile battery, one of Russia’s most sophisticated air-defence systems, in a drone strike on the Crimean peninsula.
Rozhin said: “The choice of targets for the strike is quite understandable: important airfields, air defence position areas, training camps.”
Kyiv has yet to comment on the aerial bombardment of Crimea.
Elsewhere, Russia claimed it had “detected and destroyed” a Ukrainian S-200 missile over the Kaluga region, which borders the Moscow region.
The area is home to the Shaykovka air base, which is home to Russian Tu-22 bombers used to launch missiles at Ukraine.
Flights to and from Moscow’s main airports were briefly halted, the Tass news agency reported on Friday, without any reasoning.