A large explosion followed by a fire on the only crossing between the occupied Crimean peninsula and Russia was caused by a truck explosion on Saturday, according to Russian officials.
Initial reports by Russia's Investigative Committee say that 3 people have died as a result of the explosion.
"They are believed to be passengers of a car that was near the truck that exploded. The bodies of two victims, a man and a woman, have already been recovered from the water and their identities are being established," the committee said in a statement.
The investigators have also established the details of the truck and its owner, registered in Russia's southern Krasnodar region, and begun searching his place of residence, it added.
The fire has now been extinguished, Russian emergency services told Interfax agency. While traffic on the bridge is blocked and trains are delayed, the ferry service will start operating soon on Saturday.
⚡️Eyewitnesses post photos, video of the fiercely burning Kerch bridge.The Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea has been hit by a massive explosion on the span that carries railway traffic early on Oct. 8. pic.twitter.com/5wvIjBZmZZ— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) October 8, 2022
According to Russia's Transport Ministry, road traffic would resume shortly on the intact lanes of the Crimean Bridge.
The ministry also said traffic would be limited to crossing the bridge in alternating directions.
The blast "set fire to seven oil tankers being carried by rail to Crimea," Russian news agencies cited the national anti-terrorism committee as saying. Russian President Vladimir Putin has personally ordered a criminal probe into the event.
The official Twitter account of the Ukraine government responded to the fire by tweeting: "Sick burn."
An adviser to Ukraine's President Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, called the explosion a "beginning" - but did not directly claim Ukrainian responsibility.
"Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled," he tweeted.
"Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything occupied by Russia must be expelled."Mykhailo Podolyak
Meanwhile, the Ukraine defense ministry compared the bridge explosion to the sinking of Russia's Moskva missile cruiser in April.
"Two notorious symbols of Russian power in Ukrainian Crimea have gone down," it tweeted. "What's next in line?"
Crimean parliament head Vladimir Konstantinov said the bridge was damaged by "Ukrainian vandals."
"They now have something to be proud of: for 23 years of their economic management they did not manage to build anything worthy of attention in Crimea, but they managed to damage the floor of the Russian bridge," he said on his Telegram channel.
The bridge set ablaze
Images from the bridge showed a fiercely burning fire engulfing at least two railway carriages from a train on the bridge, accompanied by a vast column of black smoke.
The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard kilometers away, took place around 6 am on Saturday while a train carrying oil was crossing the bridge.
"According to preliminary information a fuel tank was on fire on one of the sections of the Crimean bridge, the shipping arches are not damaged," RIA reported citing a local official.
A legitimate military target
The Kerch bridge is 19 kilometers long (11.8 miles) and was built by Russia after it declared Crimea to be Russian territory in 2014.
Russia has used the bridge to move military equipment, ammunition, and personnel from Russia to battlefields in southern Ukraine.
As such, Ukrainian authorities said it was a legitimate target, as they vow to retake the peninsula.
Any attack on Crimea, where the Russian army has a massive presence, will be seen as another massive humiliation for the Kremlin.The bridge is particularly hated by Ukrainians as it is seen as a symbol of Russian occupation. Social media in Ukraine erupted in celebration of seeing the fire - one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 70.