In a daring missile attack that sent shockwaves through the region, Ukraine targeted the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea on Friday.
The attack, which resulted in a serviceman’s mysterious disappearance and extensive damage to the main building, has further raised tensions between the two warring nations. Here’s what we know so far.
The Russian Defense Ministry initially reported one servicemember killed in the attack but later issued a subsequent statement indicating that the individual was missing.
The incident unfolded in the port city of Sevastopol, located on the Crimean Peninsula, a region that Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Crimea has remained a focal point of conflict since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly 19 months ago. The peninsula has served as a crucial hub for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, with Sevastopol, the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, playing a pivotal role in naval operations throughout the conflict.
Ukraine’s Targeted Strikes in Crimea
According to reports, recent weeks have witnessed a surge in Ukrainian attacks on naval facilities in Crimea. This escalation coincides with Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive, which is gradually making headway in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Military experts emphasize the importance of Ukraine’s sustained long-range attacks on Russian military assets in Crimea, as this strategy aims to erode enemy morale and weaken Russian forces.
NEW: #Ukrainian armored vehicles are operating beyond the final line of the #Russian defensive layer that Ukrainian forces in western #Zaporizhia Oblast are currently penetrating, although ISW is not yet prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken fully through this… pic.twitter.com/ALjaUhkFb0
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) September 22, 2023
While previous attacks in Crimea resulted in civilian casualties, Russian officials have not yet reported any military personnel killed in these incidents.
Back in a July 2022 attack on the fleet’s headquarters, six people were reported wounded, but it remained unclear whether they were civilians or servicemembers.
Governor’s Account of the Attack
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, provided some details about the recent attack. He stated that no one outside the burning headquarters building was injured, although he did not provide specific information about other casualties.
Nonetheless, firefighters battled the blaze, and additional emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene, suggesting the possibility of a massive fire.
Ukraine has claimed responsibility for the attack and deemed it a success. Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleschuk, the Air Force commander, expressed gratitude to the pilots in a social media post that featured video footage of air sirens blaring and smoke billowing from the building.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Russian air defense systems intercepted and shot down five missiles in response to the attack on Sevastopol. It remains unclear whether the headquarters was directly hit or if the damage resulted from debris from an intercepted missile.
Witnesses in Sevastopol reported hearing explosions and seeing smoke, while images showed gray plumes rising over the seafront. However, the authenticity of these reports and images is advised to be taken with a grain of salt as Western media could not yet independently verify the claim.
Sevastopol’s Frightening Aftermath: Ambulances, Grass Fires, and Ongoing Security Concerns
According to Russian state news agency TASS, a stream of ambulances rushed to the fleet’s headquarters, and shrapnel was scattered over hundreds of meters.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an official with the Crimean administration, reported that one cruise missile that landed near Bakhchysarai, about 30 kilometers inland, sparked a grass fire.
Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters caved in and still burning post Ukrainian Storm Shadow ALCM strike earlier today. pic.twitter.com/ZY60ORWxoy
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) September 22, 2023
Initially, Governor Razvozhayev cautioned Sevastopol residents about the possibility of another attack and urged them to stay indoors. However, he later clarified that the threat of an airstrike had dissipated, although he continued to advise against going to the central part of the city, citing road closures and unspecified “special efforts” underway. Local police also asked residents to evacuate the central area of the city.
The timing of this attack is notable, as it occurred just a day after Russia launched missiles and artillery strikes on various cities across Ukraine. These attacks resulted in at least five casualties, coinciding with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, where discussions regarding an additional $24 billion aid package for Ukraine were underway.
Recent Surge in Ukrainian Attacks
The strike on Friday represents just one of several recent Ukrainian offensives in the Crimea region.
The Institute for the Study of War reported that satellite imagery revealed significant damage to a communications command center near Sevastopol caused by Ukrainian strikes earlier in the week.
Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations in the #Bakhmut area on Sept. 19 but did not make any confirmed advances. The UKR General Staff reported that UKR forces continue assaults south of Bakhmut and are inflicting significant manpower and equipment losses on RU forces. https://t.co/6DWOzQhzCj pic.twitter.com/04LtIjbfkd
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) September 20, 2023
Russian-installed authorities in Sevastopol previously accused Ukraine of orchestrating the most extensive attack in Crimea in weeks on September 13. This attack targeted a strategic shipyard, damaging two ships undergoing repairs and triggering a fire at the facility.
Unrest in Other Ukrainian Regions
In separate developments within the ongoing conflict, shelling in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region resulted in one fatality and another person being injured, according to regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin. Kherson had witnessed increased unrest throughout the day, with Russian shelling causing fires in a residential building and a garage.
Meanwhile, in Kharkiv, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov reported attacks on over 14 settlements, damaging a house and a fire in Vovchansk, within the Chuguyiv district. Fortunately, there were no reported casualties in these incidents.
The situation in Ukraine remains fluid and tense, with both sides continuing to engage in military actions that have far-reaching implications for the region’s stability and the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.