Russia says warship ‘seriously damaged’ by explosion as Putin builds forces in eastern Ukraine | Ukraine

Russia says the flagship of its Black Sea fleet has been seriously damaged and its crew evacuated following an explosion that a Ukrainian official said was the result of a missile strike.

“As a result of a fire, ammunition detonated on the Moscow missile cruiser. The ship was seriously damaged, ”the Russian defense ministry was quoted as saying by state-run news agency TASS, adding that the cause of the fire was being determined and that the crew had been evacuated.

A Ukrainian official earlier said the Moscow had been hit by two anti-ship missiles but did not give any evidence.

“Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship,” Maksym Marchenko, the governor of Odesa, wrote on Telegram.

The Moscow gained notoriety early in the war when it called on Ukrainian border troops defending the strategic Snake Island – a small outcrop in the Black Sea – to surrender, only to be defiantly refused.

Last month Ukraine said it had destroyed a large Russian landing support ship, the Orsk, on the smaller Sea of ​​Azov to the north-east of the Black Sea. Moscow has not commented on what happened to the ship.

The military setback for Russia comes as Ukraine warned that Moscow was ramping up efforts in the south and east as it claimed to have seized full control of the besieged port of Mariupol.

“Rocket bombings and artillery strikes continue. New columns of equipment are being brought in, ”Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.

More than 1,000 Ukrainian marines defending the besieged city of Mariupol have surrendered and the port has been captured, Moscow has said, as the presidents of four countries bordering Russia arrived in Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine.

In one of the most critical battles of the war, Russia’s defense ministry said that on Wednesday 1,026 soldiers from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, including 162 officers, had “voluntarily laid down their arms” near the city’s Ilyich iron and steelworks.

It later said Mariupol’s “trade seaport” was under full control of Russian forces.

There was no independent confirmation of the claims. Ukraine’s defense ministry said it had no information about the surrender and the Ukrainian military command said only that Russian forces were attacking the Azovstal industrial area and the port.

The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who says his forces are playing a major role in the battle, urged the last Ukrainians holed up in Azovstal to surrender. The 26th Marine Brigade had said on Monday that it was preparing for a final battle in Mariupol.

The city, the main target yet to be brought under Russian control in the eastern Donbas region, has been encircled and largely reduced to rubble during Moscow’s seven-week invasion. The city’s mayor has said 21,000 civilians have died and more than 100,000 remain there awaiting evacuation.

Its capture would be the first fall of a major Ukrainian city and would help Russia secure a land passage between the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas and Crimea, which Moscow occupied and annexed in 2014.

Map of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

US President Joe Biden announced $ 800m in new US military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday. He said this would include artillery, armored personnel carriers and helicopters. Biden added it would “contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine”.

The Polish and Baltic presidents headed to the Ukrainian capital by train on Wednesday to show support for the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and his embattled troops in what the Polish presidential adviser Jakub Kumoch called “this decisive moment for the country”.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, Estonia’s Alar Karis, Gitanas Nausėda of Lithuania and Latvia’s Egils Levits met in the Polish city of Rzeszów near the Ukrainian border. “Heading to Kyiv with a strong message of political support and military assistance,” Nauseda tweeted from the station.

The program of the visit by the leaders of four NATO member states – who fear they may face Russian attacks if Ukraine falls – was not disclosed for security reasons but local media reported that the heads of state visited Borodianka, near Kyiv.

Nausėda said the town was “permeated with pain and suffering” after “civilian Ukrainians were murdered and tortured there, and residential homes and other civilian infrastructure were bombed”.

He said it was “hard to believe that such war atrocities could be perpetrated in 21st-century Europe, but that is the reality. This is a war we must win. ”

Zelenskiy told Estonian MPs on Wednesday, without providing evidence, that Russia was using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces in Mariupol said a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on the city, but there has been no independent confirmation that Russia used banned chemical weapons.

While Russian troops have largely withdrawn from around Ukraine’s capital in the face of stiff resistance and logistical problems, western officials and analysts say the invasion force is gearing up for a major offensive in the east.

Military experts say local support, logistics, the terrain in the region and the appointment by Moscow of a new senior general, Aleksandr Dvornikov, could improve the performance of a force that Britain’s defense ministry said on Wednesday had so far been “hampered by an inability to cohere and coordinate ”.

Ukraine’s armed forces command said Russian forces were fully ready for a fresh assault in the eastern Donetsk and southern Kherson regions. “In the Donetsk and Tavria [Kherson] directions, according to available information, the enemy is ready for offensive actions, ”the armed forces said in a Facebook post. In a later statement it added that Russia was attempting to mobilize up to 70,000 people in Donetsk.

In other developments:

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced French president Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to call killings in Ukraine “genocide” and his reference to Russians as a “brotherly” people.

  • Senior US officials are weighing whether to send a top Cabinet level official to Kyiv as a high profile representative in a show of solidarity with Ukraine, a source familiar with the situation said on Wednesday. The news was first reported by Politico.

  • Fiji police investigated on Thursday the arrival of a luxury vessel owned by a Russian oligarchquestioning its captain about how he brought the boat to the Pacific island nation without customs clearance. Fiji newspapers reported that police had seized the superyacht Amadea, owned by a Russian billionaire, Suleiman Kerimov – who has been sanctioned by the US, Britain and the European Union over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and detained its crew.

    Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to the report

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