KERCH (Reuters) – Leather-clad bikers with Russian national flags joined motorists driving for the first time through a newly opened bridge linking Crimea with Russia on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday unveiled the new bridge to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. He chatted with workers in monkeys and drove a heavy orange truck through the 19 km (12 miles) of length of the bridge.
On Wednesday, the road was open to the public. Some local residents on the Crimean side of the bridge said goodbye from the road when a convoy of motorists, including the leader of a group of motorcyclists supporters of the Kremlin, played their horns on their way to the peninsula.
Some Russians have christened the road and rail bridge designed to link Crimea with the Russian transport network "The Putin Bridge".
The Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, provoked sanctions and caused a deterioration of relations with the West. Many in Russia saw the change as the restoration of Moscow's dominion over a historically Russian region.
"The Crimean bridge is a link," said Andrey Merkulov, a resident of Sevastopol on the bridge on the Crimean side. "It is the greatness and power of my country, it is further proof of this power and greatness."
Some Crimean residents said they had driven all night from the peninsula's largest city, Sevastopol, to attend what they described as a historic moment.
"We came to participate in the opening (of the bridge), to drive it for the first time," said Aleksandr Karavayev, a resident of Sevastopol.
In Kiev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday that the bridge was illegal. The European Union and the United States also used the opening of the bridge to condemn the annexation of Crimea.
(Edition by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)