Ukrainian official offers plan for a Crimea without Russia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A top Ukrainian official on Sunday outlined a series of steps the government in Kyiv would take after the country reclaims control of Crimea, including dismantling the strategic bridge that links the seized Black Sea peninsula to Russia.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, published the plan as Ukraine's military prepares for a spring counteroffensive in hopes of making new, decisive gains after more than 13 months of war to end Russia's full-scale invasion.

Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, but most of the world does not recognize it as Russian territory. The peninsula's future status will be a key feature in any negotiations on ending the current fighting.

The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and acknowledge other land gains made by Moscow as a condition for peace. Kyiv has ruled out any peace talks with Moscow until Russian troops leave all occupied territories, including Crimea.

Danilov suggested prosecuting Ukrainians who worked for the Moscow-appointed administration in Crimea, adding that some would face criminal charges and others would lose government pensions and be banned from public jobs.

All Russian citizens who moved to Crimea after 2014 should be expelled, and all real estate deals made under Russian rule nullified, Danilov wrote on Facebook.

As part of the plan, he also called for dismantling a 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge that Russia built to Crimea. In October, a truck bomb severely damaged the bridge, which is Europe's longest and a symbol of Moscow’s conquest of the peninsula.

Russia has repaired the damaged section of the bridge and restored the flow of supplies to Crimea, which has been a key hub for the Russian military during the war. Moscow blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the attack. Kyiv did not claim responsibility, but Ukrainian officials had repeatedly threatened to strike the bridge in the past.

Danilov also argued for renaming the city of Sevastopol, which has been the main base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet since the 19th century. He said it could be called Object No. 6 before the Ukrainian parliaments chooses another name, suggesting Akhtiar after a village that once stood where the city is now.

The Moscow-appointed head of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, shrugged off Danilov's plan as “sick.”

“It would be wrong to seriously treat comments by sick people. They must be cured, and that's what our military is doing now,” Razvozhayev told the Russian state news agency Tass.

Danilov published his plan as Ukrainian troops prepared to use newly supplied Western weapons, including dozens of battle tanks, to break through Russian defenses and reclaim occupied areas in a counteroffensive expected as early as this month.

Russian troops are trying to capture the key Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut as part of their efforts to take all of Donetsk province, which is part of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas. The 8-month campaign for Bakhmut is the longest and potentially deadliest battle of the war.

Russia's latest rocket and artillery attacks killed four civilians and wounded 15 others since Saturday, according to the Ukrainian military. The victims included two men who died in the northern Sumy region early Sunday when a milk truck was hit.

Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian shelling killed another six civilians later Sunday in Kostiantynivka, a small city in Donetsk province. The Russian barrage also damaged numerous residential buildings and wounded eight people, officials said.

In Russia-occupied Melitopol, the Moscow-installed local administration said a Ukrainian rocket barrage on Sunday struck a locomotive depot and damaged an apartment building in the southern city, wounding six civilians.

Ukrainian officials didn't take direct responsibility for that attack either. But the city’s Kyiv-appointed mayor, Ivan Fedorov, jubilantly referred to blasts at the locomotive depot as a culmination of an “explosive week for the occupiers” that featured other hits over the past few days.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the war has destroyed entire cities and killed tens of thousands of people.

Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, reaffirming Kyiv's call to bar Russia from the Olympics, said the death toll included 262 Ukrainian athletes.

They include Vitalii Merinov, a four-time world kickboxing champion. Merinov, who had joined the Ukrainian armed forces, died Friday of wounds sustained in action, according to the mayor of the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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