Tue, 26 May 2020

Russian authorities say an explosive device was responsible for a blast that ripped through a college in the Crimean city of Kerch, leaving 10 people feared dead and dozens injured.

The blast occurred on October 17 at a polytechnic college in the city on the eastern end of the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, authorities said.

State news agencies quoted the Russian National Counterterrorism Committee (NAK) as saying it was caused by an unidentified explosive device.

In a video posted on the Internet, a woman identified as the director of the college, Olga Grebennikova, said there were 'many corpses, many corpses of children' and called it 'a real terrorist act.'

The woman, speaking on a mobile phone, says that shortly after she left the college for a meeting elsewhere, assailants attacked the school, throwing explosive devices and firing guns.

'They ran up to the second floor with automatic rifles -- I don't know with what -- and opened doors...and killed everyone they could find,' she said. She said students and faculty were among the dead.

The authenticity of the video could not immediately be independently confirmed.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russian authorities were considering terrorism as a possible motive.

Putin voiced condolences to victims and their loved ones and ordered the authorities to evacuate badly injured victims by air to 'leading' hospitals in Moscow and other cities, Peskov said.

Some earlier reports had quoted officials saying it was a gas explosion, but a spokeswoman for the regional gas-distribution company said it had no contract to supply gas to the college.

State-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti, citing regional emergency medical officials, said that according to preliminary information, 10 people were killed.

TASS, also state-run, quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying that about 70 people were injured and an unknown number of them had died.

TASS also quoted medical workers as saying that 18 people had been hospitalized and that they were expecting more injured to be brought in.

Eyewitnesses said ambulances and other emergency vehicles rushed to the site after the blast, which some reports said took place in a cafeteria.

Kerch is the site of the western end of a newly built bridge linking Russia to Crimea, which it took over by force after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power by pro-European protests in Kyiv.

Russia sent troops to the peninsula, secured key buildings, and staged a referendum denounced as illegitimate by Ukraine, the United States, and a total of at least 100 countries.

Rights activists say Russian authorities have used the courts and law enforcement to conduct a campaign of reprisals against Crimeans who opposed the takeover.

Explosions in former Soviet republics are often caused by household cooking or heating gas, but Russia has also been hit by many terrorist bombings since the separatist wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The wars were followed by an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus region, east of Crimea, and insurgents have claimed responsibility or been blamed for most of the bombings and other attacks in Russia over the years.

With reporting by RIA Novosti, TASS, and Interfax Crimea Desk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

The quality and independence of Ukraine's media as a whole are still limited, and RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda is the country's most popular and trusted international broadcaster. Radio Svoboda celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2014.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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