Ukraine launches missile strike on headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet
Images on social media showed large plumes of smoke coming from Sevastopol harbour in the annexed Crimea.
Ukraine has struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in a missile attack that left a serviceman missing and the main building at the Crimea base smouldering.
The Russian Defence Ministry initially said one service member was killed but then issued a statement saying he was missing following the attack in the port city of Sevastopol.
The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been a frequent target since Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost 19 months ago.
Crimea has served as the key hub supporting Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Sevastopol, the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 19th century, has had a particular importance for navy operations since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks while its summer counter-offensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said on Thursday in its daily assessment of the conflict.
Military experts say it is essential for Ukraine to keep up its long-range attacks on Russian military assets in Crimea to degrade morale and weaken its enemy.
Previous attacks resulted in several civilian deaths but Russian officials have not yet reported any military personnel killed. Six people were reported wounded following a July 2022 attack on the fleet’s headquarters but it was not clear whether they were civilians or service members.
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said no one was injured on Friday outside of the burning headquarters building. Firefighters battled the blaze and more emergency forces were being brought in – an indication the fire could be massive.
The Ukrainian military claimed responsibility for the attack, which it claimed was a success.
“We promised that ‘there will be more,’” Mykola Oleschuk, the air force commander, said in a social media post that thanked pilots and showed video of air sirens blazing and smoke rising from the building.
The Russian Defence Ministry said five missiles were shot down by Russian air defence systems responding to the attack on Sevastopol. It was not immediately clear if the headquarters was hit in a direct strike or by debris from an intercepted missile.
Sevastopol residents said they heard explosions and saw smoke, Russian news outlets reported, and images showed grey plumes over the seafront.
A stream of ambulances arrived at the fleet’s headquarters, and shrapnel was scattered hundreds of metres around, Russian state news agency Tass reported.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an official with the Crimean administration, said one cruise missile downed near Bakhchysarai, about 18.5 miles inland, sparked a grass fire.
The reported attack came a day after Russian missiles and artillery pounded cities across Ukraine, killing at least five people as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met US president Joe Biden and congressional leaders in Washington with an additional 24 billion dollar aid package under consideration.
The attack on Friday is one of several launched by Ukraine recently in the Crimea area.
The Institute for the Study of War said satellite imagery this week showed that Ukrainian strikes had significantly damaged a communications command centre in Verkhnosadove, just outside Sevastopol.
Russian-installed authorities in Sevastopol accused Ukraine on September 13 of carrying out the biggest attack in Crimea in weeks, one on a strategic shipyard that damaged two ships undergoing repairs and caused a fire at the facility.
Two days earlier, Ukraine claimed it had recaptured strategic gas and oil drilling platforms in the Black Sea that Russia seized in 2015. Russia had used the platforms for electronic warfare equipment and to launch helicopters, and Ukraine said getting control of them would help it regain Crimea.