Recent images from the Kerch Strait show work moving apace to connect Russia with the annexed Crimean Peninsula.
People near the Russian town of Taman look out over the construction of the Kerch Bridge, snaking 19 kilometers toward Crimea. A crew of around 5,000 people are working around the clock on the project, which began in May 2015.
Arkady Rotenberg (center) on a visit to the construction site. The 65-year-old construction magnate won the multibillion-dollar contract to build the bridge in 2015. Rotenberg is a childhood friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has amassed enormous personal wealth, mostly through construction contracts awarded by the Russian state.
A photo from July 31 shows the main archways of the bridge near completion.
The twin 227-meter-long arches are prepared for placement. The arch on the left will support two railway lines, while the other will carry four lanes of automobile traffic.
An engineer watches a scale model of the bridge being towed through a wind tunnel. When the real-world arches are moved into place, Russia has announced the Kerch Strait will be closed to all shipping for 23 days during August and September. Ukraine says the closure will be "another gross violation by the Russian Federation of the norms of international law."
The arches will straddle this gap in the bridge, designed to allow ships to pass beneath. Critics of the project say the planned 35-meter clearance under the bridge will be dangerously tight during stormy weather. Previous, stalled plans for a bridge across the strait called for clearance of at least 50 meters.
In May this year, divers tasked with scouring the seabed for explosives that could endanger the bridge discovered a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk downed during World War II. In 1945, a bridge connecting Crimea and the Russian mainland was completed, but collapsed after an ice floe crunched into the hastily made structure.
In a shopping mall in central Moscow, an exhibition tells the story of the Kerch Bridge's construction. Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea won the country international condemnation, but caused a wave of patriotic fervor inside Russia that carried President Vladimir Putin to approval ratings of 83 percent.
A mockup of a section of the bridge is seen in a wind tunnel. The Kerch Strait is a notoriously difficult place to build, with undersea mud volcanoes, seismic activity, and drifting ice floes in winter. Some Western analysts have forecast the "collapse" of the Kerch Bridge project.
An aerial view shows the Crimean end of the bridge. Photographer Stanislav Zaburdayev, who made this image with a drone in July 2017, told RFE/RL the pace of construction was plain to see: "I was there last year also. There's still a long way to go but a lot has been done in the last year, I was amazed, actually."
An engineer works as waves slap a pontoon. With the stakes high, Russian resources are pouring into the project. According to a recent New Yorker report, the "building of new automobile roads in Russia has been practically suspended" while the Kerch Bridge construction marches ahead.
Newlyweds perch on a freshly installed bench overlooking the Crimean end of the bridge. The first cars are due to roll from Russia to Crimea in December 2018.