Ukraine says its drones damaged a Russian warship, showing Kyiv’s growing naval capability

In this screen grab taken from video a drone maneuvers near a  large ship.
In this screen grab taken from video released Friday, a drone maneuvers as it approaches the vessel claimed to be a Russian large landing ship, the Olenegorsky Gonyak, close to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.
(Associated Press)
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Ukraine said its sea drones struck a major Russian port Friday and damaged a warship in an attack that underlined Kyiv’s growing military capabilities as the Black Sea becomes an increasingly important battleground in the war.

The strike on Novorossiysk halted maritime traffic for a few hours and marked the first time a commercial Russian port has been targeted in the 18-month conflict. The port has a naval base, shipbuilding yards and an oil terminal and is key for exports. It lies about 60 miles east of Crimea, where Russia’s Defense Ministry said it thwarted another attack overnight.

The Security Service of Ukraine and the country’s navy carried out the attack that damaged Olenegorsky Gornyak, a landing vessel of the Russian navy, according to an official with the security service. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give the information to the media, said the attack rendered the ship unable to perform combat missions.


Satellite photos analyzed by the Associated Press appeared to show the ship leaking oil. An image from Planet Labs, taken a few hours after the attack, showed a ship dockside with another vessel next to it. The ship in the image matched the measurements of the Olenegorsky Gornyak, as well as known physical features of the vessel. Images posted on social media showed a ship listing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that he had received a report from the country’s security service, the SBU, but didn’t say what was in it.

“I will only say that we are all grateful to the Security Service of Ukraine for pushing back the war to the aggressor state. What you bring to the world, you end up with the same,” he said. Oblique references to attacks carried out against Russia are common for Ukrainian officials, who often do not take credit for them or do so only days after the fact.

Friday’s attack is the latest in a series of strikes inside Russia. It also reflects an increase in fighting in the Black Sea after Moscow’s withdrawal from a deal that allowed Ukraine to export its grain through the waterway.

On Wednesday, Russian drones caused significant damage and a huge fire at grain facilities in the Odesa region. A day earlier, the Russian military said Kyiv’s forces tried to attack two patrol vessels in the sea, southwest of the Russian-controlled city of Sevastopol in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Zelensky, heralded the latest attack, saying it showed “drones are changing the rules of the game ... and ultimately destroying the value of the Russian fleet.”


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Russia’s far superior navy has controlled the seas in the war so far. Its ships fire on major ports and cities across Ukraine, and they have largely blockaded the country’s coast as well as mining the Black Sea, making passage through it treacherous.

Podolyak’s remarks and other recent attacks in the sea and on the Kerch Bridge connecting Crimea to Russia could indicate Ukraine is trying to change that dynamic.

With the latest assault, “Kyiv showed that it can attack any vessel of the Black Sea Fleet, no matter the distance,” said Ukrainian military analyst Roman Svytan.

The end of the grain deal, under which ships carrying food from Ukrainian ports were promised safe passage, “untied Kyiv’s hands,” he said, predicting the frequency of attacks on Russian ships would only increase.

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Taking on Russia on the seas, however, will be a serious challenge. Russia’s navy dwarfs Ukraine’s — and after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine said it lost more than 80% of its naval capabilities. Meanwhile, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has 279 vessels, including 52 warships. Ukrainian attacks have destroyed at least two: the Saratov landing ship, which sank in the occupied port city of Berdyansk early on in the war, and the fleet’s flagship, the Moskva, which also sank early in the war. Several more have been reportedly damaged.

On Friday, Ukrainian news agencies carried video from social media channels that showed a ship listing to one side that they suggested was the Olenegorsky Gornyak. The ship is designed to transport troops and heavy equipment and was sent for repairs in 2014, according to Russian media reports. It is normally based with Russia’s Northern Fleet in the Arctic.


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The Russian Defense Ministry claimed the navy fended off the attack, saying its ships destroyed two Ukrainian sea drones. Video published on Russian social media channels appeared to show a ship firing into the sea and a burning object exploding.

But other images that appeared on messaging app channels claimed to show the Olenegorsky Gornyak listing to one side, and some Russian military bloggers confirmed that it was damaged. Ukrainian media outlets also carried footage they said was from a drone’s onboard camera showing it approaching the Russian landing ship.

The Associated Press could not verify the videos.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the attack during a conference call with reporters.

Minutes after confirming the attack on the Black Sea port early Friday morning, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it had also repelled another attack by Ukraine on Crimea. The ministry said air defense systems shot down 10 drones and it had electronically jammed another three.

Videos shared on Russian social media channels reportedly from around the city of Feodosia showed what appeared to be air defense systems working, as well as loud explosions. Feodosia is just across the water from Novorossiysk and is not far from Kerch, which was attacked in July. Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the attack on the Kerch bridge, which left a span of the roadway hanging perilously. The bridge is a key artery for military and civilian supplies from Russia to Crimea and is an assertion of Kremlin control of the peninsula it illegally annexed.

In other developments:

— In southern Ukraine, the Russia-appointed governor in the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, said several Ukrainian drones were shot down near Berdyansk during the night. Berdyansk is on the Azov Sea, about 150 miles north of Novorossiysk.


— Ukraine’s prosecutors office accused Russian forces of hitting the Kherson region with a guided bomb, wounding a local resident. The office published photos from the attack, showing a deep crater and damaged houses.

— Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, met with Zelensky on Friday.

Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau contributed from Berlin.