Russia says the explosion paralyzes the Black Sea flagship, Ukraine claims missile attack

  • Moscow missile cruises damaged after ammunition exploded
  • A Ukrainian official says the vessel was hit by missiles
  • Zelenskiy warns of new Russian offensives to avenge defeat
  • Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister says agreement to open humanitarian corridors

KYIV / LVIV, Ukraine, April 14 (Reuters) – (Please note the language that some readers may find offensive in section 14.)

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was severely damaged and its crew evacuated Thursday after an explosion on board that Ukraine said was caused by a missile attack.

The loss of Soviet-era missile cruiser Moscow would be a blow to Russia’s military – on the 50th day of the war – as it prepares for a new attack in the eastern Donbas region that is likely to define the outcome of the conflict. Read more

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Russia’s Defense Ministry said a fire in Moscow caused ammunition to explode, the Interfax news agency reported without saying what had caused the fire.

Maksym Marchenko, the Ukrainian governor of the region around the Black Sea port of Odesa, said Moscow had been hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune cruise missiles.

“Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage,” he said in an online post.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, and Reuters was unable to confirm any of the sides’ statements.

Russia’s navy has sent cruise missiles into Ukraine, and its activities in the Black Sea are crucial to supporting land operations in the southern part of the country, where it is struggling to seize full control of the port of Mariupol.

Russia said on Wednesday that more than 1,000 Ukrainian Marines who had held out in Mariupol had surrendered and that the shattered city was fully under its control. Ukrainian officials did not comment.

If taken, Mariupol – Ukraine’s main port in the Azov Sea, which has been besieged and bombed for weeks – would be the first major city to fall Russian forces since they invaded on 24 February.

Its conquest would allow Russia to reinforce a land corridor between separatist-controlled eastern territories and the Crimean region, which it conquered and annexed in 2014, and release forces for a broader attack in the south and east.

“Russian forces are stepping up their activities on the southern and eastern fronts and trying to avenge their defeats,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video speech Wednesday night.

HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS

Russian news agencies said Moscow, which was taken into service in 1983, was armed with 16 anti-ship Vulcan cruise missiles with a range of at least 700 km (440 miles).

Kiev says Moscow was involved in one of the landmark early exchanges of the war when Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island, a small protrusion in the Black Sea, told the ship to “go to fucks” after demanding that they surrender . Read more

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said nine humanitarian corridors had been agreed on Thursday to evacuate civilians, including by private car, from Mariupol.

Other evacuation routes are from Berdiansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar, and those in the eastern Luhansk region would work if Russian forces stopped shelling, Vereshchuk added in a statement.

Ukraine says tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed in Mariupol and accuses Russia of blocking relief convoys of civilians trapped there.

Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boichenko, said Russia had brought in mobile crematoria “to get rid of evidence of war crimes” – a statement that could not be verified.

Moscow has blamed Ukraine for civilian deaths and accused Kiev of dismantling Russian armed forces.

“RELEASE US FROM WHAT?”

In the village of Lubianka northwest of Kiev, from which Russian forces had tried and failed to subjugate the capital before withdrawing, a message was written to Ukrainians on the wall of a house occupied by Russian troops.

“We did not want this … forgive us,” it said.

The Kremlin says it has launched a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “liberate” Ukraine from nationalist extremists, a message villagers said had been repeated to them by Russian troops.

“To free us from what? We are peaceful … We are Ukrainians,” said Lubianka resident Viktor Shaposhnikov.

The Kremlin has condemned US President Joe Biden’s description of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine as an expression of genocide, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this was unacceptable from the head of a country he said had committed his own crimes.

An expert mission set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) Nations said on Wednesday that it had found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russia in Ukraine. Read more

Russia has denied targeting civilians, saying some reports have been staged for propaganda purposes.

Andriy Nyebytov, head of the Kyiv region’s police, said more than 800 bodies had been found in three districts occupied by Russian forces.

“We find terrible things: buried and hidden bodies of people who were tortured and shot and who died as a result of mortar and artillery fire,” Nyebytov said in television comments. His statements could not be immediately verified.

Western-led sanctions have triggered the worst economic crisis in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, analysts say.

More than 600 companies, including McDonalds, have announced their withdrawal from Russia, which will directly cause the loss of about 1 million jobs. Read more

In total, 2.6 million people could fall below Russia’s official poverty line this year, the World Bank estimates.

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Further reporting by Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Max Hunder in London, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Reuters offices; Written by Michael Perry and Alex Richardson; Edited by Stephen Coates and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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