Ukraine: Chongar bridge linking mainland to Crimea ‘damaged in explosion’ - what do we know so far?

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Russian officials say the bridge was hit by air-launched Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK

A bridge between Crimea and Russia-occupied areas in southern Ukraine has been hit by missiles, Russia-backed officials say, threatening a key supply link for Russian forces in the early stages of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On Wednesday (21 June), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted progress on the country's long-awaited counteroffensive had been slow, especially in the wake of a dam collapse which has killed civilians and caused widespread damage on territory held by both sides. However, Ukraine had been making steady progress in parts of its occupied southern territory - including eight villages - reclaimed.

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Now forces appear to be taking aim at infrastructure. The Russian military has relied on the Chongar bridge as the principal connection to its forces in the Kherson region, part of which is controlled by Moscow.

But has Ukraine claimed responsibility for attacking the bridge, and what will the likely impact be on Russian troops? Here's everything you need to know:

Russian officials say the bridge was hit by air-launched Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)Russian officials say the bridge was hit by air-launched Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Russian officials say the bridge was hit by air-launched Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images) | Getty Images

What do we know about the bridge bombing?

Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-appointed Kherson governor, said on Thursday the bridge was hit by air-launched Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK.

Ukrainian authorities, who usually refrain from commenting on specific attacks, did not directly claim responsibility for the strike but spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk, for the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command, emphasised the importance of derailing Russia’s logistics in televised comments.

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“We are destroying enemy plans, destroying the enemy’s capability to stand up against us,” she said.

Russia-appointed officials in Crimea said that while it could take weeks to fully repair the bridge, traffic could continue on one lane and noted that two other crossings are also available.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu warned earlier this week that Ukraine was planning to use US-made HIMARS and UK-provided Storm Shadow missiles to attack Russian territory, including Crimea. While he warned that use of those missiles against targets outside the combat zone would “trigger immediate strikes on the decision-making centres on the territory of Ukraine”.

Why is the Chongar bridge significant?

The Crimean Peninsula is connected to mainland Ukraine by a narrow strip of land about six miles wide and several bridges.

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Russian forces in Crimea frequently use the Chongar bridge to reach southern Ukraine’s Kherson province, AP reports. Russia and Ukraine control different sides of the province, which is a focus of fighting and attacks as Ukrainian troops try to reclaim Russian-occupied territory.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 - meaning it declared its sovereignty over the peninsula - which had before that been part of Ukraine, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ukraine has stated that ending Russia's occupation of the territory is still part of its goal, with authorities saying that for the country’s nearly 16-month war to end, Moscow must withdraw its forces from Crimea as well as from areas they seized during the full-scale invasion that started last year.

An October truck bomb explosion on the 12-mile Kerch Bridge over a strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov caused its partial collapse. It took Russia months to repair the bridge, which is Europe’s longest and a symbol of Moscow’s claims on Crimea.

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In some of the earliest days of Russia’s February 2022 invasion, Russian troops advanced north from Crimea and quickly captured the entire Kherson province. Ukraine has reclaimed the city of Kherson and other areas on the west bank of the Dnieper since, although Russia continues to hold on to the east bank.

The destruction of an upriver dam this month caused dozens of deaths and extensive flooding on both sides. Ukrainian commanders say it also got in the way of some of their plans for taking Russian positions in the area in the counter-offensive’s initial stages.

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