KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On a day that saw Moscow suffer a symbolic crushing defeat with the loss of its Black Sea Fleet flagship, Ukraine’s president hailed his people for their determination since invading Russia in February and for making “the most important decision of their lives – to fight.
In his late night address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians on Thursday evening that they should be proud to have survived 50 days under Russian attack while the invaders “gave us a maximum of five”.
At the time, even friendly world leaders urged him to leave, not knowing if Ukraine could survive, he said: “But they didn’t know how brave Ukrainians are, how how much we appreciate the freedom and the opportunity to live as we want.”
Listing the means by which Ukraine defended itself against the onslaught, Zelenskyy noted “those that showed that Russian warships can get away, even if it’s at the bottom” of the sea.
It was his only reference to the missile cruiser Moskva, named after the Russian capital, which became a potent target of Ukrainian defiance in the early days of the war. She sank on Thursday while being towed to port after sustaining heavy damage in circumstances that remain controversial.
Ukrainian officials said their forces hit the ship with missiles, while Moscow acknowledged a fire on board but no attack. American and Western officials could not confirm the cause of the fire. Either way, the loss was a symbolic defeat for Russia as its troops regroup for a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine after pulling back from much of the north, including the capital. , Kyiv.
The Moskva had the capacity to carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its removal reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. It’s also a blow to Moscow’s prestige in a war already widely seen as a historical mistake.. Now entering its eighth week, the invasion has stalled in the face of resistance from Ukrainian fighters bolstered by weapons and other aid sent in by Western nations.
During the early days of the war, the Moskva was reportedly the ship calling Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to a standoff. In a widely played recording, a soldier replied, “Russian warship, go (expletive) yourself.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the incident, but Ukraine and its supporters consider it an iconic moment of defiance. The country recently unveiled a postage stamp commemorating him.
News of the flagship has eclipsed Russian claims of advances in the southern port city of Mariupol, where Moscow forces have been battling the Ukrainians since the early days of the invasion in some of the fiercest fighting of the war – to a horrible cost to civilians..
Fewer and fewer Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol are resisting a siege that has trapped more than 100,000 civilians in desperate need of food, water and heat. David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, told AP in an interview Thursday that people “starved to death” in the besieged city.
The mayor of Mariupol said this week that more than 10,000 civilians had died and the death toll could exceed 20,000, after weeks of attacks and deprivation that lined the streets with corpses.
The capture of Mariupol is crucial for Russia because it would allow its southern forces, which were crossing the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbass region, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine and the target of the coming offensive.
The Russian military continues to move helicopters and other equipment together for such an effort, according to a senior US defense official, and is likely to add more ground combat units soon. But it is still unclear when Russia might launch a bigger offensive in Donbass.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine in the Donbass since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea. Russia recognized independence from the rebellious regions of Donbass.
The loss of Moskva could delay any new large-scale offensive.
Maksym Marchenko, governor of the Odessa region, said Ukrainian forces hit the ship with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage”.
The Russian Defense Ministry said ammunition on board exploded following a fire, without specifying the cause of the fire. He said the “main missile weapons” were undamaged. In addition to cruise missiles, the warship also had air defense missiles and other guns.
The Neptune is an anti-ship missile that was recently developed by Ukraine based on an earlier Soviet design. The launchers are mounted on trucks parked near the coast and, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, can hit targets up to 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. This would have put the Moskva within range, depending on where it was when the fire started.
Launched as Slava in 1979, the cruiser served in the Cold War and during the conflicts in Georgia and Syria, and helped conduct scientific research in peacetime with the United States. During the Cold War, it carried nuclear weapons.
Other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea moved further south after the Moskva incident on Thursday, said a senior US defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss assessments. internal military.
Although the United States was unable to confirm Ukraine’s claims that the warship was hit, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called it “a blow for Russia”.
“They kind of had to choose between two stories: one story is that it was just incompetence, and the other was that they were attacked, and neither is a particularly good outcome for them.” , Sullivan told the Economic Club of Washington. .
Russia invaded on February 24 and potentially lost thousands of fighters. The conflict has killed countless Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee.
It also further inflated prices at grocery stores and gas pumps, while dampening the global economy. The head of the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that the war had prompted the organization to revise economic forecasts for 143 countries downwards.
Also on Thursday, Russian authorities accused Ukraine of sending two low-flying military helicopters some 11 kilometers across the border and firing at residential buildings in the village of Klimovo, in the Bryansk region of Russia. The Russian Investigative Committee said seven people, including a toddler, were injured.
Russia’s state security service earlier said Ukrainian forces fired mortar shells at a border crossing in Bryansk as refugees crossed, forcing them to flee.
The reports could not be independently verified.
Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine