The Ukrainian navy claims to have destroyed one of Russia's most important littoral landing warships in the Sea of Azov after Russian propaganda footage revealed its location.
Smoke was seen rising across the skyline of Berdyansk, a city under Russian control, as the massive vessel went up in flames and two others — one which appeared to have been damaged — sailed away from the explosion.
The Ukrainians said they bombed the Orsk, a 370ft Russian Alligator-class tank carrier, as it was sitting at anchor in the port which is about 80 kilometres west of Mariupol, a city besieged by Mr Putin's forces. The development came as a stand-off emerged over evacuations from the besieged city. Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russian forces prevented civilians leaving Mariupol on Thursday although Ukrainian authorities had despatched 40 buses to the area for an evacuation.
“The Orsk large landing ship of the Black Sea Fleet of the occupiers has been destroyed in the port of Berdyansk captured by Russia,” the Ukrainian navy said in a Facebook post about the attack on the Black Sea port. “The occupiers are burning well,” wrote the Ukrainian armed forces on Twitter, sharing a video showing smoke rising from what is thought to be the Orsk.
The landing ship had its maiden voyage in 1968 and was used to transport military equipment to Syria in 2018 as part of Russia’s backing for President Bashar Al Assad.
Ukraine launched its attack three days after Russian state media TASS broadcast a video of tanks being unloaded from the Orsk. The reporter said the supplies were reinforcements for troops engaged in the battle for Mariupol.
Ms Malyar said the ship was capable of carrying 45 armoured personnel carriers and 400 people.
H I Sutton, a respected naval analyst, said it was “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the Alligator-class warship had exploded in the port.
He said the two ships seen sailing away “as fire raged” appeared to be Ropucha-class vessels.
The attack serves as a further blow to Mr Putin’s debilitating war on Ukraine, which reached the one-month mark on Thursday. Battalions of Russian forces have for weeks been wracked by logistical issues, low supplies of food and fading morale.
Despite suffering heavy losses including military and civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure, morale among Ukrainian troops and volunteers remains high.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that the Ukrainians had been “carrying out successful counter attacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts” of Kyiv. The Mod said the Ukrainians had “probably retaken Makariv and Moschun”.
The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces claimed to have recaptured the town of Makariv, 60 kilometres west of Kyiv.
“The Ukrainian flag was raised over the town of Makariv,” he was quoted by the Kyiv Independent as saying.
Four weeks on from the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian soldiers are remain locked in fierce battles for the capital and other major cities including Mariupol.
The Russians are reorganising and regrouping before an expected renewed offensive towards Kyiv, the Mod said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday rallied Nato leaders to send more military aid to help troops repel the invading Russian forces.
After addressing delegates at the transatlantic summit in Brussels, Nato agreed to hit Russia with “unprecedented costs” over its invasion of the former Soviet nation.
“President Zelensky addressed us with an impassioned message, thanking Nato allies for the significant support we are providing and stressing the vital importance of even more military assistance,” Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
“Today Nato leaders agreed that we must and will provide further support to Ukraine.
“We will continue to impose unprecedented costs on Russia and will reinforce allied deterrence and defence.”
The leaders formally approved the deployment of new Nato battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is understood to have piled pressure on his fellow Nato members to consider tougher action against Russia. Britain on Thursday announced a further round of sanctions against 65 Russians and Belarusian individuals and entities. A 26-year-old Russian woman linked to Mr Putin’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was among those who had their assets frozen.
“People will ask, did we do enough? I don’t think we can deny them in their moment of agony. We have the means and they have need,” Mr Johnson said in a speech to his fellow leaders, according to a UK official.
In response to the latest round of sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov branded the prime minister “the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian”.
Downing Street rejected the claim, insisting Mr Johnson has no issue with the Russian people, but is “among the most active anti-Putin leaders”.