Kyiv: The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet has sunk after what Kyiv said was a Ukrainian missile strike, dealing one of the heaviest blows yet to Moscow’s war effort.
Kyiv says it hit the cruiser Moskva with missiles fired from the coast. Russia did not confirm the attack but said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an explosion of ammunition. Moscow said more than 500 sailors had been evacuated. There was no independent confirmation of the fate of the crew.
Although Russia did not acknowledge that Ukrainian missiles had hit the ship, early on Friday it struck what it described as a factory in Kyiv that made and repaired anti-ship missiles, in apparent retaliation.
The Moskva was by far Russia’s largest vessel in the Black Sea fleet, equipped with guided missiles to attack the shore and shoot down planes, and radar to provide air defence cover for the fleet.
On the first day of the war, Feb. 24, the ship ordered Ukrainian defenders of an island outpost to surrender and they radioed back an obscenity, an event marked on a postage stamp that Kyiv released hours before saying it had struck it.
In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy partially quoted that epithet, paying homage to “those who showed that Russian ships can go - only down to the bottom.” Russia has used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a potential amphibious landing along the coast.
Without its flagship, its ability to menace Ukraine from the sea could be crippled.
“If reports of Moskvas sinking prove true it will be emblematic of Russia’s overall military effort thus far,” tweeted Michael Kofman, an expert on Russia’s military, who called it a “major loss for the Russian navy”.
No warship of such size has been sunk during conflict since Argentina’s General Belgrano, torpedoed by the British in the 1982 Falklands war.
Blasts in Kyiv
Kyiv was hit on Friday by some of the most powerful explosions heard since Russian forces withdrew from the area two weeks ago. Moscow said it had struck a plant in capital that made and repaired Ukrainian missiles, including anti-ship missiles.
“The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Kirill Kyrylo, 38, a worker at a car repair shop, said he had seen three blasts hit an industrial building across the street, causing a blaze that was later put out by firefighters.
The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car, he said, pointing out the shattered glass of the repair shop and bits of metal that had flown over from the burning building across the street.
Russia’s defence ministry also said it had captured the Ilyich steel works in Mariupol, one of the last industrial areas holding out in the besieged eastern city that has seen the war’s heaviest fighting and the worst humanitarian catastrophe.
Ukraine said it had repelled Russian offensives in the town of Popasna and Rubizhne, in an area north of Mariupol. Both reports could not be independently confirmed.
Russia pulled its troops out of northern Ukraine this month after a huge armoured assault on Kyiv was repelled at the outskirts of the capital.
Moscow now says its main war aim is capturing the Donbas, an eastern region of two provinces that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists and that Russia wants Kyiv to cede.
It has sent a new column of thousands of troops into the east for what Ukraine anticipates will be a major assault.
Moscow says it hopes to seize all of Mariupol soon, which would be the only big city it has captured so far.
The Black Sea port, home to 400,000 people before the war, has been reduced to rubble by seven weeks of siege and bombardment, with tens of thousands of people trapped inside.
Thousands of civilians have died there.
Russia initially described its aims in Ukraine as disarming its neighbour and defeating nationalists there.