A second strike by Ukraine last month on the strategically vital Kerch Strait Bridge damaged its crucial railway, contrary to Russian claims that the attack affected only the roadway on spans of the structure, satellite photos obtained by Newsweek reveal.
Data and satellite images sent exclusively to Newsweek by Molfar, a global open-source intelligence community, dated on July 17 and 23, show damage to railroad parts of the bridge. They also show a group of cars concentrated near those damaged parts, which researchers believe to be transport repair workers and equipment.
The Kerch Strait Bridge is a key supply route for Russia’s forces and is Russia’s sole land link with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.
The 19-kilometer (12-mile) road and rail bridge, built after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, was previously damaged in an explosion in October 2022. It consists of two main parts—a four-lane roadway for vehicles and a railway bridge with two tracks—and is crucial to sustaining Moscow’s military offensives in southern Ukraine.
Ukraine this week claimed responsibility for both strikes on the Kerch Bridge. Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry via email for comment.
On July 17, the first explosion on the Kerch Strait Bridge occurred at 3:05 a.m. near its vehicular section, and some 30 minutes later, between 3:20 a.m. to 3:40 a.m., a second explosion happened under the bridge’s railway structure, Molfar found. According to Russian media reports, maritime drones caused the explosions.
Shortly afterward, Russia’s Transport Ministry said “there is damage to the roadway on spans of the Crimean Bridge”, while several Telegram channels, including Shot, Baza, and Astra, published pictures and videos of the destruction, showing the collapse of part of the bridge and damaged vehicles.
One part of the bridge’s structure was destroyed, while another part shifted by a meter due to the initial explosion. The bridge’s roadways were subsequently covered with cracks, significantly damaging the entire bridge structure and its supporting elements.
One photo shows serious damage to the railway section of the Crimean bridge, while satellite images show signs of repair work.
While the visible portion of the railroad structure appears stable and is likely able to safely carry passenger cars, a source with knowledge of construction work at the Crimean bridge told Molfar that as one column has cracks, the movement of freight trains across the bridge is no longer possible.
The railway link between annexed Crimea and Russia had enabled the Russian army to transport heavy equipment swiftly, and troops regularly relied on the railroad to deploy such machinery to Crimea—something that will now be hindered due to the damage caused by the explosions on July 17, and could have serious strategic implications for the Russian military presence in the region, Molfar researchers assessed.
The attack came more than a month into Ukraine’s counteroffensive seeking to recapture its occupied territories. Last summer, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
A yellow terrorist threat level has been in place in parts of Crimea since April 11, 2022, weeks after Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Russian forces have been fortifying the peninsula amid fears of a Ukrainian advance.