Crimea’s civilians sound alarm after Ukrainian drone hits Russian fleet HQ

Worried locals lambast Sevastopol’s governor after attack on region once regarded as impregnable

A Ukrainian drone hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea this weekend, the latest assault on a region Moscow once considered an impregnable fortress.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the Sevastopol military base on Saturday morning, and city residents were urged to stay at home immediately after the strike, the latest in a string of high-profile attacks on sensitive targets there and inside Russia.

The governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said there were no casualties, and initially claimed the drone flew into the airbase’s roof after troops stationed there were not able to shoot it down. He later said soldiers had been able to target the drone, and that it had fallen onto the airbase roof after being hit. “Clarification: the drone was hit...right above the fleet headquarters. It fell on the roof and caught fire. The attack failed. Well done boys,” he wrote.

Previous attacks in Crimea, including one earlier this month on the Saky airbase that sent fireballs into the sky and destroyed nine or more warplanes, prompted many residents to flee the peninsula.

Worried locals responded to Razvozhaev by asking how a drone had slipped through air defences that at the start of the war were considered among the most sophisticated in the world. “Was our air defence system on a lunch break?” asked one. “When will you finally close the city?” asked another, suggesting the attacks were the work of pro-Ukraine partisans in the peninsula. “We fought harder against the coronavirus! There were checkposts everywhere then, now anyone and everyone enters!!!!”

Another wondered if more attacks were coming. Wednesday 24 August is Ukraine’s independence day, and will also mark six months since Russia’s invasion.

Many in the country are worried that Moscow may be preparing some kind of major attack that day, but residents in Crimea are also apparently concerned that Ukraine wants to mark its successful resistance.

“They have Independence Day on the 24th, maybe they are preparing something? And the [drone] is just to divert attention from the main thing.”

The attacks came a day after the US announced a $775m arms package for Ukraine including drones, armoured vehicles and artillery.

Government officials have repeatedly said that while western weapons allowed the country to save Kyiv, and hold off Russia in other areas, they are still woefully short of the arms needed to decisively defeat Russia.

Promised supplies are also arriving slowly. Last week a senior source estimated only 10% of arms promised by the west had reached Ukraine. And on Saturday presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak warned Moscow was trying to create a “reputation crisis” for Ukraine that would slow the flow of western arms.

Ukrainian troops are being pounded by weapons in the south and in the east, where Russian forces are still slowly advancing through a wasteland of cities shelled into ruin before they are captured.

On Saturday they stepped up fighting to seize Bakhmut, one of the last major towns in the Donetsk region still held by Ukrainian forces, and which would clear the way for Russia to move on two other strategic targets, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Russia last month took over all of the Luhansk region, which together with Donetsk makes up the industrial Donbas heartland. Russia-backed separatists self-declared a pair of independent republics there.

After Russia’s failure to seize Kyiv, and setbacks in parts of the south including around the city of Kherson, capturing territory here has become a key military objective for Moscow.

Shelling in the Mykolaiv region also seriously injured four children and five adults, with one girl losing an eye, said governor Vitaliy Kim. Shells landed in the town of Voznesensk, just 30km from the country’s second-largest nuclear power plant.

There is growing global concern about Russia’s occupation of the nearby Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest in Europe, and suspicion that Russian authorities could try to disconnect it from the Ukrainian grid, which would raise the risk of a nuclear accident.

Additional reporting: Artem Mazhulin


Emma Graham-Harrison in Kyiv

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘I was born to do this’: Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision winner Jamala on why Putin fears her people, Crimean Tatars
Jamala tells how her 2016 song shone a light on Stalin’s deportations and helped to dispel the myths that Crimea is historically Russian

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kyiv

13, May, 2023 @3:29 PM

Article image
‘We’ll show just how weak they are’: Ukraine primed for crucial offensive
With concern among allies seemingly growing, there is a lot riding on an imminent counter-assault on the Russians in the south

Emma Graham-Harrison and Artem Mazhulin in Zaporizhzhia region

30, Apr, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘We killed three Russians’: the secretive Ukrainian special forces taking the fight across the border
Kyiv and western governments deny they exist, but saboteurs say they are striking Russia on its soil with the help of its people

Daniel Boffey in Kyiv

04, Feb, 2023 @12:50 PM

Article image
Even amid murderous Russian raids, western apathy is Kyiv’s deadliest foe
Putin’s missiles are raining down on Ukrainians, but the biggest danger they face is weakening support from the US and Europe, writes Simon Tisdall

Simon Tisdall

27, Nov, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Russian ships, tanks and troops on the move to Ukraine as peace talks stall
With negotiations deadlocked, Moscow is continuing to build up its military forces for a possible invasion

Andrew Roth

23, Jan, 2022 @8:37 AM

Article image
Inside hospital on Ukraine’s frontline: ‘Russia wants to destroy fabric of our lives’
Work goes on inside the bombarded Mykolaiv hospital near key offensive to retake Kherson

Ed Vulliamy in Mykolaiv

03, Sep, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Putin has to escalate to survive. There can be no peace until he falls
German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s vision of restoring the unity the continent had before the invasion of Ukraine cannot be achieved without removing Russia’s president

Simon Tisdall

11, Dec, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
In eastern Poland, Putin’s war has turned former enemies into friends
Opposition to Russian aggression has helped Poles and Ukrainians put bitter 20th-century history behind them

Emma Graham-Harrison in Przewodów

19, Nov, 2022 @6:37 PM

Article image
‘This will be different’: Kherson’s ruined villages come to life with counteroffensive preparation
Signs of the anticipated Ukrainian strike are unmistakable now – to strategists and residents• Russia-Ukraine war – live updates

Peter Beaumont in Kherson region

06, May, 2023 @1:02 PM

Article image
Pressure on Putin grows as his ‘jewel in the crown’ bridge to Crimea is blown up
The Kerch bridge, symbol of Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula, was hit at dawn the day after the president’s birthday

Peter Beaumont in Kyiv and Pjotr Sauer

09, Oct, 2022 @7:00 AM