Ukraine received a significant morale boost on Thursday when Ukrainian forces sank the Russian landing craft Orsk in the occupied port of Berdyansk, on the Sea of Azov.
Videos circulating on social media showed the flash of an explosion, followed by footage of the ship in flames and spewing black smoke. Three smaller Russian ships, the Novocherkask, Saratov and Tsezar Kunukov, reportedly sailed out of Berdyansk harbour, two of them also on fire. The flames spread to an ammunition depot and destroyed a 3,000-tonne fuel tank.
Russian television had broadcast a boastful report about the Orsk three days earlier, noting that it was the first Russian warship to enter Berdyansk, and that Comdr Sergei Skortsov had been decorated for the “liberation” of Crimea in 2014.
The reinforcements are believed to have come from Crimea and were destined for the besieged port of Mariupol, 84km from Berdyansk.
Ukraine’s ministry of defence described the move as “a gross violation of international humanitarian law and another proof of Russia’s behaviour as a terrorist state”.
Nevertheless, as Ukraine’s Azov battalion appeared to be fighting a losing battle in Mariupol, elsewhere Russian forces have failed to advance – and a significant boost to morale was delivered with the sinking of the Orsk, a ship that had ferried soldiers destined for the besieged city.
Dramatic pictures were aired of billowing fire and black smoke as the Orsk, docked in Berdiansk on the Azov Sea, was hit by Ukrainian ballistic missiles.
The ship, which contained weapons and supplies for forces fighting in Mariupol, had featured in a report on Russian television just a few days previously.
It was said to be capable of carrying 20 tanks, 45 armoured vehicles and 400 troops. The fire on the Orsk reportedly spread to other vessels as well as an ammunition depot and a fuel terminal in the port.
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