(KYIV, Ukraine) — Ukrainian forces said they hit and badly damaged the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Russia said its crew was forced to evacuate as a result of a fire without acknowledging an attack, as the battle shifts east and around the battered city of Mariupol where the defenders were still holding out.
The governor of the Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, said the Ukrainians struck the guided-missile cruiser Moskva with two missiles and caused “serious damage.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed the ship was damaged but not that it was hit by Ukraine — it said ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire of as-yet undetermined causes. It added that the entire crew had been evacuated. The cruiser usually has around 500 people aboard.
The sinking of this cruiser, if confirmed, would represent a significant blow to Russia. This is after Orsk, a tank carrier, was attacked and set on flame in Berdyansk, in the Sea of Azov, late last month.
The reported ship attack by Neptune cruise missiles came a day after President Joe Biden called Russia’s actions in Ukraine “a genocide” and approved $800 million in new military assistance to Kyiv, saying weapons from the West have sustained Ukraine’s fight so far and “we cannot rest now.” The munitions include artillery systems, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.
Russia invaded Kyiv on February 24th with the stated goal of overthrowing its government and replacing them with someone more friendly to Moscow. Russia was unable to advance quickly and could have lost thousands of combatants. Conflict has resulted in untold deaths of civilians from Ukraine and forced many more people to flee. It also has rattled the world economy, threatened global food supplies and shattered Europe’s post-Cold War balance.
On Wednesday, the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland showed support for Ukraine and demanded that they be held accountable for war crimes. They meet with their counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and visited Borodyanka, one of the towns near Kyiv where evidence of atrocities was found after Russian troops withdrew to focus on the country’s east.
“There are no doubts that they committed war crimes. And for that, they should be accountable,” Latvian President Egils Levits said.
The Lithuanian president, Gitanas Nauseda, added: “The fight for Europe’s future is happening here.” He called for tougher sanctions, including against Russian oil and gas shipments and all the country’s banks.
Russian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov stated that 1,026 soldiers from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade had surrendered in a steel factory. This was one of most important battles of World War II. But Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, rejected the claim, telling Current Time TV that “the battle over the seaport is still ongoing today.”
Russian troops have begun to prepare for an offensive in eastern Donbas, the region where Russian-allied separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Mariupol, which lies in the Donbas and has been beaten by the Russians for several weeks, is an important part of the Russian campaign.
Uncertain when surrender occurred and how many troops were still protecting Mariupol.
Russian state TV broadcast Wednesday footage from Mariupol that showed dozens of camouflaged men walking in the streets with their arms raised and others in chairs or on stretchers. One man was holding a white flag. A tall building was visible in the background with its roof missing and windows broken. This is the Iliich steelworks, as identified by the broadcaster.
U.N. task forces warned that the war is threatening to destroy the economies in many poor countries, who are already facing higher energy and food prices and more challenging financial circumstances. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war is “supercharging” a crisis in food, energy and finance in poorer countries that were already struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and a lack of access to funding.
Zelenskyy mentioned in his evening address that Zelenskyy was the International Criminal Court prosecutor who visited Bucha (a Kyiv suburb) where Russian forces had recently taken control. There were evidence of mass murders, and over 400 bodies.
“It is inevitable that the Russian troops will be held responsible. We will drag everyone to a tribunal, and not only for what was done in Bucha,” Zelenskyy said late Wednesday.
Also, he stated that work is continuing to remove tens of thousand of unexploded mines, shells and tripwires left behind by the Russians in northern Ukraine. He encouraged people who return home to avoid any strange objects, and reported them to police.
Also Wednesday, a report commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found “clear patterns of (international humanitarian law) violations by the Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities.” It was written by experts selected by Ukraine and published by the Vienna-based organization, which promotes security and human rights.
The report said there were also violations by Ukraine, but concluded those committed by Russia “are by far larger in scale and nature.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied his troops committed atrocities, saying Tuesday that Moscow “had no other choice” but to invade and would “continue until its full completion and the fulfillment of the tasks that have been set.” He insisted Russia’s campaign was going as planned despite a major withdrawal after its forces failed to take the capital and suffered significant losses.
Robert Burns (Associated Press reporter in Washington) and AP journalists all over the world contributed to this article.
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