This photograph posted on the Telegram channel @VentdeCrimee on December 26, 2023 shows smoke rising above a damaged warship following a Ukrainian attack in the port of Feodosiya, Crimea. Image Credit: AFP

MOSCOW: A Russian naval ship in Crimea was damaged in an airstrike by Ukrainian forces, Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

The landing ship Novocherkassk was hit at a base in the city of Feodosia by plane-launched guided missiles, the ministry said, adding that two Ukrainian fighter jets were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire during the attack.

Over the past several months, Ukrainian forces have conducted attacks around Crimea, mostly with sea drones. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky credits those attacks with allowing Ukraine to restore navigation in the Black Sea and allowing the export of millions of tonnes of grain.

In September, a Ukrainian attack hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, killing one person, and Ukraine launched more missiles against the city on the following day.

The Russia-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said one person was killed in the Tuesday attack.

“The Russian fleet has become smaller,” Ukrainian air force Cmdr. Mykola Oleschuk said in a mocking message on the Telegram app. He urged Russians to leave Crimea — which Russia annexed in 2014 — “while it’s not too late.”

The gloating came amid growing concern about battlefield disappointments and about the future of Western aid for Ukraine’s war effort. Despite high hopes for a summer counteroffensive, the front line has barely moved and political disputes in allied countries leave billions of dollars of aid in doubt.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin about the attack, according to Russian news agencies, but details of what he said weren’t reported.

Shoigu, however, did tout Russian accomplishments in the war this year, saying “The main efforts in the outgoing year were focused on achieving the goals of the special military operation. The main one is to disrupt the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian armed forces, loudly announced by Ukraine and its Nato allies. This task has been successfully completed.”

Novocherkassk damaged in an attack in March last year

The Russian ministry didn’t specify the extent to which the Russian ship was damaged, but videos circulating on Ukrainian channels showed a large fire in the port area. Ukrainian authorities claimed the ship was destroyed and said it was likely carrying an ammunitions shipment, possibly including drones.

“We saw how powerful were the blast and detonation. It’s extremely difficult for a ship to survive something like that,” Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said on Radio Liberty.

Ihnat denied that Ukrainian planes were shot down in the attack.

Landing ships such as the Novocherkassk “are now used by the enemy almost constantly as logistics facilities, as transportation of important cargo,” the spokesperson for Ukraine’s military southern command, Nataliya Gumenyuk, was quoted as saying by the UNIAN news agency.

The Novocherkassk was damaged in an attack in March 2022, about a month after the war started, but Ihnat said it has been recently used to transport weapons and soldiers to the Zaporizhzhia region, which is partly held by Russian forces.

The Ukrainian air force’s Tuesday morning update said that Russia launched 19 drones, mostly against the Odesa and Mykolaiv regions — 13 of which were shot down — over the past night. The remaining drones caused infrastructure damage, but no casualties were reported, according to Ukraine’s presidential office.