Brussels: The inhabitants of two villages in southern Russia near the Ukrainian border were evacuated on Thursday after a nearby ammunition storage depot caught fire but no one was hurt, an official said.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, said in a statement that emergency services were investigating the cause of the fire near the settlements of Timonovo and Soloti, 15 km from Ukraine. He did not give details.
A popular Ukrainian news website posted a video it said showed a large ball of flame erupting from the base. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the video was genuine.
Russia on Tuesday blamed saboteurs for orchestrating a series of explosions at an ammunition depot in Russian-annexed Crimea, further to the south. Last week blasts ripped through a Crimean air base, which Moscow at the time said was caused by an accident.
After months in which Russian forces made modest territorial gains in heavy fighting in the east since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, front lines have been comparatively static for weeks.
The government in Kyiv has said it was preparing for a counter-offensive to recapture a swathe of southern territory.
Gladkov has in previous months blamed Ukrainian forces for a series of blasts in and around Belgorod, which is around 650 km south of Moscow.
Separately, at least four explosions hit an area near a major Russian military airport in the annexed peninsula of Crimea on Thursday, three local sources said, but a pro-Moscow official said no damage had been done.
The sources said the blasts occurred in the vicinity of the Belbek base, north of Sevastopol.
The governor of Sevastopol, citing what he called preliminary information, said Russian anti-aircraft forces had downed a Ukrainian drone.
“There is no damage. No one was hurt,” said Mikhail Razvozhayev, writing on Telegram.
Footage posted to a Ukrainian news-gathering site showed what appeared to be a rocket being fired into the night sky and the sound of at least two explosions. Reuters was unable to immediately verify the veracity of the footage.
Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, is an important supply line for what President Vladimir Putin calls his special military operation in Ukraine.
On the diplomatic front, Turkey’s leader and the UN chief met in Ukraine with President Volodymr Zelensky on Thursday in a high-powered bid to ratchet down a war raging for nearly six months.
But little immediate progress was reported.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would follow up with Russian President Vladimir Putin, given that most of the matters discussed would require the Kremlin’s agreement.
With the meetings held at such a high level — it was the first visit to Ukraine by Erdogan since the war began, and the second by UN Secretary-General António Guterres — some had hoped for breakthroughs, if not toward an overall peace, then at least on specific issues. But none was apparent.
Meeting in the western city of Lviv, far from the front lines, the leaders discussed such things as expanding exchanges of prisoners of war and arranging for UN atomic energy experts to visit and help secure Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, which is in the middle of fierce fighting that has raised fears of catastrophe.
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