A Ukrainian attack hit a Russian warship moored in Crimea early on Tuesday, in what appeared to be one of the most significant strikes against Moscow’s prized Black Sea fleet in months.
The Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement that it had destroyed the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, in the southeastern Crimean port of Feodosia overnight. Russia’s Defense Ministry told the Tass state news agency that the ship had been damaged in an attack using “aircraft guided missiles,” but did not say whether the vessel had been permanently disabled.
Videos of the attack that appeared to be taken by local residents and were released by the Ukrainian Air Force showed a huge explosion that produced a large fireball, followed by a giant cloud of smoke and fire billowing into the night sky. The footage could not be immediately verified, but Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the attack had started a fire in Feodosia. One person was killed and two others were wounded in the assault, he added.
“The fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller!” Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s Air Force, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app celebrating the strike, which he noted came after Ukrainian missiles sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last year.
The Ukrainian military has long maintained that the war cannot be won without taking aim at Russian assets and operations in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.
In recent months, Ukraine has sharply accelerated the pace of strikes on the peninsula, which Russia’s military uses as a logistics hub for its hold on southern Ukraine — stockpiling fuel, ammunition and other supplies to be funneled to the battlefields — but also as a launchpad for attacks on Ukraine.
The Black Sea Fleet has been used to launch devastating precision cruise missile strikes deep inside Ukraine. In an attempt to reduce the threat, the Ukrainian military has repeatedly targeted the fleet this year — claiming in September to have killed its commander.
Those attacks were significant achievements for a country without warships of its own and rare successes in a year marked by disappointing efforts to break through Russian defensive lines on the battlefield.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that it used cruise missiles in Tuesday’s attack, which took place at around 2:30 a.m. local time. Russian news media reported that the 360-foot long Novocherkassk was capable of transporting up to 10 tanks and 340 troops.
The Ukrainian military said it suspected that the ship was carrying Iranian-made attack drones for use in the war. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army in the south, told national television that “it is clear that such a large detonation was caused not just by fuel or ammunition of the ship itself.”
Andrii Klymenko, the head of the Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies, agreed. “Judging by the video of the explosion, which was very powerful, it was carrying explosives: either shells or missiles, or, as some people say, drones,” he wrote in a text message.