Russia has replaced the commander of its Black Sea fleet, based in Crimea, after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously seen as a safe rear base for its war in Ukraine
Moscow blamed saboteurs for the explosions that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday. Plumes of smoke were later seen rising from a second Russian military base in central Crimea, Russian newspaper Kommersant said.
Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility, but has hinted at it. Ukraine’s apparent ability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory, either with some form of weaponry or sabotage, signals a shift in the conflict. Explosions destroyed warplanes at a Russian naval air base in Crimea last week.
On Wednesday, Russia’s RIA news agency cited sources as saying that the commander of its Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced by a new chief, Viktor Sokolov.
If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most high-profile firings of a military officer so far in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.
State-run RIA cited sources as saying the new chief was presented to members of the fleet’s military council at the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, has suffered several humiliations since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine – which Moscow calls a “special military operation” – on 24 February.
In April, Ukraine hit its flagship, the Moskva, a large cruise ship, with Neptune missiles. It became the largest warship sunk in combat for 40 years.
More grain ships leave
Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has heavily fortified since then, provides the main supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv plans a counteroffensive in the coming weeks.
Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement that after the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces had urgently moved some of their planes and helicopters to the peninsula and to airfields in Russia. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
The Black Sea Fleet has also blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of the war, trapping vital grain exports, which are only now starting to move again under a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations .
Three other ships left Ukraine on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministry said on its Facebook page.
“This morning, three ships with Ukrainian food products left the ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa… More than 33,000 tons of agricultural products are on board,” he said.
Attacks reported in Kharkiv
The war has driven millions to flee, killed thousands and deepened a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia, which says its operation aims to demilitarize its neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities.
Ukraine, which broke free from Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, accuses Russia of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
The United States, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway and Britain have asked the UN Security Council to meet on August 24 to discuss the impact of the war in Ukraine, diplomats said, in commemoration of the six months of the invasion of Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia continued to press its ground campaign on multiple fronts: Kharkiv in the northeast; the Donbas to the east and southeast; and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in central and southern Ukraine.
“Russian shelling in general has been greatly intensified,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhadanov said in an online video.
Russian shelling in a residential area of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on Wednesday evening killed seven people and wounded 16, Ukraine’s Emergency Service said.
Kharkiv has come under repeated attacks, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy deplored Wednesday’s attack on Telegram: “This is a cynical attack on civilians without justification.”
Zhadanov said Russian mining operations in Kharkiv were intended to prevent Ukrainian forces from advancing. “This is used in this region more than any other,” he said.
In the eastern Donetsk region, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said two civilians were killed and seven wounded in shelling by Russian forces in the past 24 hours. Reuters could not independently confirm the reports in Kharkiv and Donetsk.
The Ukrainian government has ordered mass evacuations in Donetsk, but for a couple on a small farm near the city of Kramatorsk, leaving was not an option.
“Grandma can’t be transported – she’s almost 100 years old,” Nataliia Ataiantz, 47, said as she looked at the elderly woman. For her husband, Oleksandr, the thought of leaving was “scary”.
“Our parents are buried here. And this is our land too… where should we go, abroad? he said