According to Russia's defense ministry, ammunition exploded at a military air base, with local authorities confirming one death
A Russian military air base was at the center of several blasts that occurred in Crimea on Tuesday, according to the country's defense ministry. Officials in Moscow have attributed the explosions to an accidental detonation of ammunition, insisting that the installation had not been attacked.
Local authorities have confirmed that at least one person was killed in the incident, with five more hospitalized.
The predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea used to be part of Ukraine, but joined Russia back in March 2014 following a referendum on reunification which came after the Maidan coup in Kiev.
The first reports of explosions, accompanied by cell-phone videos of their immediate aftermath, appeared on Tuesday afternoon on the Russian Telegram channel Baza and in local media.
Major Russian media outlets soon also ran reports of the blasts, with Crimean authorities later confirming the incident.
The first explosion is said to have taken place at around 3pm local time, and this was followed by several more. According to eyewitnesses, the incident occurred in the village of Novonefyodovka, where a Russian military air base is situated.
The initial footage that circulated on social media and was reposted by Russian news outlets shows clouds of gray smoke rising in the distance. One video apparently captured the sound of one of the explosions as well.
Several media outlets, citing eyewitnesses, reported that windows in nearby buildings had been shattered as a result of the blasts.
During the course of the day, Sergey Aksyonov, the governor of Crimea, posted a string of videos on his Telegram channel, updating his subscribers about the blasts at the airfield.
The official said a 5km zone around the epicenter had been cordoned off by police in order to ensure that "local residents don't get injured." He added that paramedics as well as air medical services were working at the scene. Aksyonov, however, stopped short of issuing any comment regarding casualties at first.
Later in the day, the official did confirm one death, saying that "now official information is coming in, unfortunately, we have one fatality." He also clarified that residents in the immediate vicinity of the airfield would be relocated. Aksyonov promised that nobody who had suffered from the blasts would be left "without help."
The governor also pledged to issue updates on social media if and when more details are established, calling on his subscribers to stick to official comments issued by the defense ministry regarding the cause of the blasts.
Crimea's health ministry confirmed that five people sustained injuries in the incident, including one minor. All are said to have been hospitalized, with their condition being described as non-life-threatening.
Russia's tourism industry association posted a message on its Telegram channel, advising that "according to preliminary information, the explosion happened far away from the tourist zone," with no casualties among holidaymakers.
Later in the day, Russia's defense ministry issued a comment on the incident. It said the blast had been caused by ammunition that had "detonated" at the Saki military air base.
Moscow's military insists that its installation did not come under fire. The statement added that the incident had not led to any casualties among personnel or any damage to military aircraft stationed at the base.
"The fire is being extinguished, and the cause investigated," the ministry said.