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A day after critical bridge explosion, Russian forces strike Zaporizhzhia

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Ukraine is bracing for retaliation from Russia after an explosion damaged a bridge linking Russian-occupied Crimea to the Russian mainland. Yesterday's blast was one of the most symbolic strikes yet on Russian infrastructure, and it's prompted calls for revenge by pundits inside Russia. Ukrainian officials say they've seen an uptick in rocket attacks on their territory over the last 24 hours. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Kyiv, and he joins us now. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

RASCOE: The blast yesterday sent part of the bridge into the Black Sea, set train cars on fire. What is the situation at the bridge now?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. Russian authorities are saying the bridge is operational again. This blast was a huge embarrassment for Moscow, given what a key piece of infrastructure it is and that it was a pet project of President Vladimir Putin. So there really was a rush to get it operational again as soon as possible. That said, you know, we're seeing video and images on social media that show only 1 of 4 lanes of vehicle traffic being able to pass on the bridge at the moment. And it appears that trains are only able to use 1 of the 2 rail lines. Russian-appointed officials in Crimea say that trucks aren't being allowed on the structure at all at the moment and will have to move across the strait on ferries. You know, it was really a huge explosion. There was a lot of damage. And while the bridge probably is repairable, this is a major black eye for Putin and for the Kremlin.

RASCOE: Is it clear what caused the explosion or exactly who was behind it?

BEAUBIEN: That still remains a mystery. Russian counterterrorism officials said yesterday that it was a truck bomb, but given the way that the road buckled in several different spots, there's a lot of questions about that. Russian media is reporting that divers are out there today inspecting the structural supports under the water. There have been rumors that it was a boat bomb or that explosives were planted under the deck of the bridge. But really, we simply don't know at this point. Ukrainian officials have been celebrating this incident, while at the same time, as they usually do in these types of events, they're avoiding saying that they are actually responsible for having caused it.

RASCOE: And is it clear that what we've been seeing over night is actually retaliation?

BEAUBIEN: You know, that also isn't entirely clear. There have been calls in Russia and among Kremlin proxies in Crimea for revenge over this attack on the Crimea bridge. Overnight, Russian forces pounded the city of Zaporizhzhia with missiles, killing at least a dozen people. One apartment building appears to have collapsed. But we should note that the night before the bridge explosion, Russia also pounded Zaporizhzhia, killing quite a few civilians. There was also nearly 70 explosions reported in the Dnieper region, particularly around Nikopol, which is right across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. That happened last night. But this shelling - we really need to know it's not completely outside the normal nightly attacks that Russia launches into Ukrainian territory.

RASCOE: In the about 30 seconds we have left - you've been covering the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Ukraine's south. How much of an impact could this attack on the Crimea bridge have on fighting in that part of the country?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I've been hearing from Ukrainian troops is that limiting Russian supply lines has been really key in terms of moving forward in the counteroffensive that Ukraine has been putting forward. The Crimea bridge was and is hugely important in terms of getting supplies to Russian troops. So any disruption of that bridge definitely benefits the Ukrainians.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Kyiv. Jason, thank you so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.