The attack in Berdyansk, nearly 100 miles from the main front line in southern Ukraine outside the besieged Ukrainian port in Mariupol, is a sign Kyiv has retained significant military capabilities as it pursues a large-scale conventional war against Russian forces.
Russian officials didn’t immediately confirm the attack. Footage from Berdyansk shows other Russian vessels fleeing the port after the explosions. Berdyansk, where pro-Ukrainian protests erupt regularly, is one of a handful of large Ukrainian cities captured by Moscow in the month since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Ukrainian officials haven’t disclosed how Ukraine carried out the attack. Ukraine’s new Neptune antiship missiles have a range of about 200 miles and haven’t been used in the conflict so far. Ukraine also has ballistic missiles with a known range of some 75 miles, though there may be modifications with a longer range.
Much fanfare was made by the arrival of Orsk in Berdyansk Monday. Zvezda, the Russian army TV channel, said that the ship is capable of carrying 20 tanks or 40 BTR infantry vehicles. “The southern flank of the special operation can now receive anything, including armor and ammunition, at any time,” Zvezda said at the time. “The port, and the entire city, are under reliable protection of the Russian air defenses.”
Another Azov Sea port city, Mariupol, which is 50 miles to the east, has been surrounded by Russian forces and pummeled with artillery and airstrikes for weeks. Thousands of civilians there have been killed, and most of the city has been destroyed, according to local officials. Ukrainian forces in Mariupol continue to keep most of the city from falling into Russian hands.
Before Thursday’s strike, Ukraine managed to inflict severe damage on the Russian navy personnel in the Azov area. Moscow has acknowledged that Ukrainian troops killed the deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Navy Capt. Andrey Paliy, and the commander of the fleet’s 810th Marine Infantry Brigade, Col. Aleksey Sharov.
The combat performance of the Ukrainian army and the failure of Russian forces to make significant advances have caught U.S. and allied officials by surprise. Weapons supplied to Ukraine before the invasion were tailored to fuel an insurgency campaign, with U.S. officials expecting Russia to seize the capital Kyiv in as little as three days.
However, Ukraine has managed to push Russia’s much bigger and better equipped military to a standstill, at least for now. Western nations are rushing to get more military supplies across Ukraine’s western borders as Kyiv says it risks running short of ammunition.
Russia, which committed some 190,000 troops to the invasion of Ukraine last month, has lost as many as 40,000 of these troops between those killed in action, injured, captured or deserted, according to North Atlantic Treaty Organization estimates, a level of casualties that would render a large part of the Russian force incapable of offensive operations.
Russia hasn’t released its casualty statistics since saying on March 2 that 498 service members had been killed in Ukraine. Ukraine isn’t releasing any information on its casualties.
In the vicinity of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have been able to mount a limited counteroffensive, clearing some areas to the west and northwest of the capital, according to the Ukrainian military and footage from retaken towns.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a TV interview that only some 12,000 Russian soldiers remain active on the Kyiv front, and that 3,000 of them have been encircled, with another 4,000 nearly surrounded. Russian officials didn’t immediately confirm those figures.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to hold talks in Moscow Thursday with International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer, Russia’s state media agency TASS, reported.
The ICRC confirmed that Mr. Maurer arrived in the Russian capital on Wednesday and plans to continue the agency’s discussions with Russian authorities about the humanitarian situation related to the war in Ukraine. Messrs. Maurer and Lavrov were expected to hold a “substantive discussion…on issues of providing assistance to needy residents of Ukraine, [in] the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as well as the organization and smooth functioning of humanitarian corridors,” TASS reported Thursday.