Explosion rocks southern Russian port city

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An explosion rocked Russia’s southern port city of Taganrog, injuring several people and causing damage on a scale Russians are unaccustomed to seeing at home 18 months into its full-blown invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian defence ministry claimed the explosion was the result of its air defences intercepting a Ukrainian missile on Friday, with debris from the downed rocket destroying a café and museum courtyard in the city centre.

Kyiv has not commented on the strike and its policy is to neither confirm nor deny attacks within Russia. A second missile was shot down over the Rostov region by air defences soon after, Russian authorities said, with debris landing outside the city of Azov across the bay from Taganrog.

The strike follows a week of Russian missile and drone strikes on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports such as Odesa following Moscow’s withdrawal from the UN-brokered grain export deal.

Ukraine has hit targets inside Russia before, mainly with drones. Cases of sabotage of military supply sites such as oil terminals by partisan groups have also been attributed to Ukraine, and some artillery fire has hit Russian settlements close to the Ukrainian border.

Map showing the location of Taganrog in Russia, along with Azov, and the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Berdyansk

Taganrog is located deeper in the southern Rostov region, around 50km from the border with Russian-occupied areas of southern Ukraine, and nearly 150km away from the frontline. A military air base used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine is located on the outskirts of the city.

Thousands of Ukrainians from the country’s south-east were sent to camps in Taganrog in spring of 2022, as Russian forces laid siege to the city of Mariupol.

Videos shared on social media showed a destroyed building and rubble scattered in the yard of Taganrog’s art museum, and a damaged café named after the playwright Anton Chekhov, who was born in the city. The strike caused a deep crater in the museum yard and windows were blown out in a nearby apartment block.

“Rescuers are working at the site. There are no casualties,” Rostov governor Vasily Golubev wrote on social media. “Four people received light injuries from broken glass.” Later he added that nine people were hospitalised.

“Suddenly it hit, the windows flew out,” a chef working at the café told Russia’s Izvestia newspaper. “Dirt, shrapnel. Four people from the kitchen got cuts, a girl was cut. Three people who had been deafened were brought here.”

The second strike deployed “a S-200 air defence missile that had been converted to strike mode”, the Russian defence ministry said. “Russian air defences intercepted the Ukrainian missile near the city of Azov. The wreckage of the downed missile fell in a deserted area.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been informed of the incident. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia reserved the right to “take tough retaliatory measures” after the explosion.

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