People gather outside a shopping centre destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022.
People gather outside a shopping centre destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022. Reuters / ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

The flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet has sunk after what Kyiv said was a Ukrainian missile strike, dealing one of the heaviest blows yet to Moscow's war effort and providing a powerful symbol of Kyiv's resistance against a better-armed foe.

Kyiv says it hit the cruiser Moskva with missiles fired from the coast. Russia said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an explosion of ammunition. Moscow said more than 500 sailors had been evacuated. There was no independent confirmation of the fate of the crew.

Although Russia did not confirm that Ukrainian missiles had hit the ship, early on Friday it struck what it described as a factory in Kyiv that made and repaired anti-ship missiles, in apparent retaliation.

The Moskva was by far Russia's largest vessel in the Black Sea fleet, equipped with guided missiles to shoot down planes and attack the shore, and radar to provide air defence cover for the fleet.

Hours before Kyiv said it had struck the ship, it released a postage stamp with a picture of a soldier making an obscene gesture towards it, commemorating the war's first day when the ship ordered Ukrainian defenders to surrender an island outpost, and they radioed back "Russian warship, go fuck yourself".

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy paid homage to "those who showed that Russian ships can go -- only down to the bottom".

Russia has used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a potential amphibious landing along the coast. Without its flagship, its ability to menace Ukraine from the sea could be crippled.

"If reports of Moskva's sinking prove true it will be emblematic of Russia's overall military effort thus far," tweeted Michael Kofman, an expert on Russia's military, who called it a "major loss for the Russian navy".

No warship of such size has been sunk during conflict since Argentina's General Belgrano, torpedoed by the British in the 1982 Falklands war.


Kyiv was hit on Friday by some of the most powerful explosions heard since Russian forces withdrew from the area two weeks ago. Moscow said it had struck a plant that made and repaired Ukrainian missiles, including anti-ship missiles.

"The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime," the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Kirill Kyrylo, 38, a worker at a car repair shop, said he had seen three blasts hit an industrial building across the street, causing a blaze that was later put out by firefighters.

"The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car," he said, pointing out the shattered glass of the repair shop and bits of metal that had flown over from the burning building.

Russia's defence ministry also said it had captured the Ilyich steel works in Mariupol, the besieged eastern port that has seen the war's heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe. The report could not be confirmed. Ukrainian defenders are mainly believed to be holding out in Azovstal, another huge steel works.

Both plants are owned by Metinvest - the empire of Ukraine's richest businessman and backbone of Ukraine's industrial east - which told Reuters on Friday it would never let its enterprises operate under Russian occupation.

Moscow also reported that Russian villages in the Belgorod region near the border had been hit by Ukrainian shelling. Attacks in the area, a major staging ground for Russia's invasion, could not be confirmed.

Ukraine said it had repelled Russian offensives in the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne, in an area north of Mariupol. Those reports also could not be independently confirmed.

Russia pulled its troops out of northern Ukraine this month after a huge armoured assault on Kyiv was repelled on the outskirts of the capital.

Moscow now says its main war aim is capturing the Donbas, an eastern region of two provinces that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists and that Russia wants Kyiv to cede. It has sent a new column of thousands of troops into the east for what Ukraine anticipates will be a major assault.

Moscow says it hopes to seize all of Mariupol soon, which would be the only big city it has captured so far.

The port on the Sea of Azov, which was home to 400,000 people before the war, has been reduced to rubble in seven weeks of siege and bombardment, with tens of thousands trapped inside. Thousands of civilians have died there.

Russia initially described its aims in Ukraine as disarming its neighbour and defeating nationalists there.

Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine's 44 million people from their homes.

The Washington Post reported that Moscow had sent a diplomatic note to the United States warning of "unpredictable consequences" unless Washington halts weapons shipments to Ukraine.