By Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine said it struck Russian naval targets and port infrastructure early on Wednesday in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, in what appeared to be the biggest attack of the war on the home of the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet.
The strike on Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014, was confirmed by Moscow. It highlighted Kyiv’s growing missile capabilities as Russia continues to bombard Ukraine from afar with long-range missiles and assault drones.
“We confirm a large landing vessel and submarine were hit. We do not comment on the means (used) for the strike,” Ukrainian military intelligence official Andriy Yusov told Reuters, giving no further details on the scale of the damage.
Russia’s defence ministry said in statement that Ukraine had attacked a Black Sea shipyard with 10 cruise missiles and three uncrewed speedboats in the early hours, damaging two military vessels that had been undergoing repairs.
It said it downed seven of the incoming missiles and that the attack boats had been destroyed by a Russian patrol ship.
An image circulated online and verified by Reuters showed a docked vessel that had sustained serious damage.
“It really is the biggest attack on Sevastopol since the beginning of the war,” retired Ukrainian navy captain Andriy Ryzhenko told Reuters by telephone.
The city is home to the Black Sea Fleet which the Kremlin uses to project power into the Middle East and Mediterranean and – during the war in Ukraine – to impose a de facto blockade on Ukraine’s seaborne food exports via the Turkish straits.
Ukraine has tried to push back against the fleet’s naval power by attacking with sea drones packed with explosives, but Russia has continued to use its warships for missile attacks on Ukraine throughout the more than 18-month-old war.
It was not clear what kind of missile was used by Kyiv in the attack on Sevastopol, which lies about 300 km (185 miles) from Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa.
Ryzhenko said Ukraine may have used domestically made Neptune anti-ship missiles that had been modified to work against ground targets. British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles were another possibility, he said.
Britain’s Sky News cited unnamed sources saying Storm Shadows were used in the attack.
The West has poured weapons worth billions of dollars into Ukraine to help it fend off Russian forces that have occupied swathes of territory in the south and east since their full-scale invasion in February 2022.
PUBLIC CLAIM OF RESPONSIBILITY
The Ukrainian military, which launched a counteroffensive in early June, took the unusual step of publicly claiming responsibility for the strike, something it does not typically do for attacks on Russia or the Crimea peninsula.
“On the morning of Sept. 13 the Ukrainian armed forces conducted successful strikes on naval assets and port infrastructure of the occupiers at the docks of temporarily occupied Sevastopol,” it said on Telegram.
Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed governor of Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and a major Black Sea port, said on Telegram that at least 24 people had been injured.
He posted a night photo of flames engulfing what appeared to be port infrastructure. Russian Telegram channels posted videos and more photos of flames at a facility by the water.
On the streets of Sevastopol on Wednesday afternoon, residents said the attack had woken them up.
“My child was woken up as well. It was about 3 in the morning. We got very scared. Everything was shaking,” said Nadezhda Lunyova.
Another resident, Alexander Ivanov, said he was unfazed as he had just returned from the war.
“Everything is calm in town now. People are actually even curiously checking what happened. There’s no fear,” he said.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Anna Pruchnicka, Kyiv newsroom, Felix Light and Reuters TV; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alison Williams)