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Ammo depot fire forces evacuation in Crimea

Crimean authorities have shut down a major highway and ordered the evacuation of four settlements in the immediate vicinity of an ammunition depot in the east of the peninsula, which “caught fire” on Wednesday morning.

Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov announced the plan to “temporarily evacuate residents of four settlements” at around 7:15am local time, shortly after announcing that a segment of the Tavrida highway was closed due to major blaze at a nearby military range.

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Later in the day he reported that the evacuation order affected some 2,200 people, who will be provided all necessary assistance. Nobody was hurt in the incident, the official added.

The Crimean leader said the cause was yet to be determined by investigators. Meanwhile, conflicting information has come from Ukraine on whether Kiev was behind the incident. 

A message attributed to Kirill Budanov, Ukraine’s chief of military intelligence, was reported in the media, saying the fire was the result of a joint operation by his department and the regular Ukrainian military. However, hours later a spokesman for the agency denied the reports, saying the social media channel quoted by the news outlets was not verified.

Several popular Telegram channels have shared videos purportedly showing the fire.

Vladimir Konstantinov, the chair of the Crimean regional parliament, said there was no reported damage to civilian infrastructure. He predicted that it would be safe for the evacuated people to return to their homes after a day or two.

The incident comes a day after the Russian military reportedly intercepted at least 28 Ukrainian drones targeting multiple locations across the peninsula on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Kiev used two unmanned maritime surface drones to strike the Crimean Bridge. Moscow condemned the incident as a terrorist attack, saying two civilians were killed and one child injured. Tavrida is a major 250-kilometer highway which continues from the bridge into the peninsula itself.

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