A Ukrainian drone struck the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Crimea this weekend, the latest assault on a region Moscow once considered an impregnable fortress.
Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the Sevastopol military base on Saturday morning and residents of the city were urged to stay at home immediately after the attack, the latest in a series of attacks by high profile against sensitive targets there and inside Russia.
Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said there were no casualties and initially claimed the drone flew into the roof of the airbase after troops stationed there were unable to shoot it down. He later said that soldiers had been able to target the drone and that it had fallen onto the roof of the air base after being hit. “Clarification: The drone was hit…right above fleet headquarters. It fell on the roof and caught fire. The attack failed. Well done guys,” he wrote.
Previous attacks in Crimea, including one earlier this month on the Saky air base that sent fireballs into the sky and destroyed nine or more warplanes, prompted many residents to flee the peninsula.
Concerned locals responded to Razvozhaev by asking him how a drone had slipped through anti-aircraft defenses that at the start of the war were considered among the most sophisticated in the world. “Was our air defense system on a lunch break?” asked one. “When will you finally shut down the city?” asked another, suggesting the attacks were the work of pro-Ukraine supporters on the peninsula. “We have fought more against the coronavirus! Then there were checks everywhere, now everyone and everyone comes in!!!!”
Another wondered if more attacks were coming. Wednesday, August 24 is Ukraine’s Independence Day and will also mark six months since the Russian invasion.
Many in the country are worried that Moscow is preparing some kind of major attack that day, but residents of Crimea are also apparently worried that Ukraine wants to mark its successful resistance.
“They have Independence Day on the 24th, maybe they are preparing something? And the [drone] it’s just to distract from the main thing.”
The attacks came a day after the United States announced a $775 million arms package for Ukraine that includes drones, armored vehicles and artillery.
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Government officials have repeatedly said that while Western weapons enabled the country to save Kyiv and contain Russia in other areas, they still do not have the weapons needed to decisively defeat Russia.
The promised supplies are also slow to arrive. Last week, a senior source estimated that only 10% of the weapons promised by the West had reached Ukraine. And on Saturday, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak warned that Moscow was trying to create a “reputational crisis” for Ukraine that would stem the flow of Western arms.
Ukrainian troops are being hammered in the south and east, where Russian forces are still slowly advancing through a wasteland of bombed-out cities in ruins before being captured.
On Saturday, they stepped up the fight to seize Bakhmut, one of the last major cities in the Donetsk region still held by Ukrainian forces, which would allow Russia to advance on two other strategic targets, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Russia last month took over the entire Luhansk region, which together with Donetsk forms the industrial heart of the Donbass. Russian-backed separatists self-declared a pair of independent republics there.
After Russia’s failure to seize Kyiv and setbacks in parts of the south, including the city of Kherson, capturing territory here has become a key military objective for Moscow.
Shelling in the Mykolaiv region also seriously injured four children and five adults, and one girl lost an eye, Governor Vitaliy Kim said. The shells landed in the city of Voznesensk, just 30 km from the country’s second largest nuclear power plant.
Global concern is growing over Russia’s occupation of the nearby Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest, and suspicions that Russian authorities may try to disconnect it from the Ukrainian grid, raising the risk of a nuclear accident.
Additional reporting: Artem Mazhulin