The sinking of the Russian warship reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea, although military analysts disagreed on the event’s significance to the course of the war. Either way, the loss was viewed as emblematic of Moscow’s fortunes in a seven-week invasion widely seen as a historic blunder following the retreat from the Kyiv region and much of northern Ukraine.
“A ‘flagship’ russian warship is a worthy diving site. We have one more diving spot in the Black Sea now. Will definitely visit the wreck after our victory in the war,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted Friday in a boast.
In his nightly address Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Ukrainians they should be proud of having survived 50 days under Russian attack when the invaders “gave us a maximum of five.”
Russia’s warning of renewed airstrikes did not stop Kyiv residents from taking advantage of a sunny and slightly warmer spring day as the weekend approached. More people than usual were out on the streets Friday, walking dogs, riding electric scooters and strolling hand in hand.
In one central park, a small group of people including a woman draped in a Ukrainian flag danced to the music of a portable speaker.
Residents reported hearing explosions in parts of Kyiv overnight, but it was not clear what sites were targeted.
News about the Moskva overshadowed Russian claims of advances in the southern port city of Mariupol, which Moscow’s forces have blockaded since the early days of the invasion. Dwindling numbers of Ukrainian defenders have held out against a siege that has come at a horrific cost to trapped and starving civilians.
Mariupol’s mayor said this week that more than 10,000 civilians had died and the death toll could surpass 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find evidence of atrocities against civilians like the ones discovered in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv.
The Mariupol City Council said Friday that locals reported seeing Russian troops digging up bodies that were buried in residential courtyards and not allowing new burials “of people killed by them.”
“Why the exhumation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken is unknown,” the council said on the Telegram messaging app.
Mariupol’s capture would allow Russian forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully link up with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland and the target of the looming offensive.
Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014, the same year Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized the independence of two rebel-held areas of the region.
Although it’s not certain when Russia will launch the full-scale campaign, a regional Ukrainian official said Friday that seven people died and 27 were injured after Russian forces opened fire on buses carrying civilians in the village of Borovaya, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv. The claim could not be independently verified.
Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news website, that Ukrainian authorities had opened criminal proceedings in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder.”
A large explosion also struck the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where a missile strike on a train station a week earlier killed more than 50 people as thousands heeding warnings to evacuate the Donbas area waited to leave.
Associated Press journalists in Kramatorsk heard the sound of a rocket or missile and then the blast, followed by sirens wailing Friday. It was not immediately clear what was hit or whether there were casualties. A day earlier, a factory in the same city was hit by an airstrike.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that Russian strikes in the Kharkiv region “liquidated a squad of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” of up to 30 people and “liberated” an iron and steel factor in Mariupol. The claims could not be independently verified.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry explained the damage to the Moskva by saying that a fire had caused ammunition on board to detonate. Apart from the cruise missiles, the Moskva also carried air-defense missiles and other guns.
The ministry did not say what might have caused the blaze but reported that the crew, which usually numbers about 500, abandoned the vessel. It was not clear if there were any casualties.
Maksym Marchenko, governor of Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Odesa, said Ukrainian forces struck the Moskva with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage.” The Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine based on an earlier Soviet design.
According to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the missile system can hit targets up to 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. That would have put the Moskva within range, based on where the ship was when the fire began.
Other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea moved farther south after the Moskva incident, a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and has suffered thousands of military casualties. The conflict has killed untold numbers of Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee.