In one of the most devastating blows of the war so far, Ukraine says it took out a whole chunk of Russia’s naval leadership in a single missile attack, which killed the commander of the notorious Black Sea Fleet.
Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov was allegedly killed in Friday’s missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s HQ in Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia in 2014.
Sokolov, who was drafted in to beef up the faltering navy last year, was attending a meeting of top naval and military figures when the missile crashed into the building in Sevastopol, according to the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. The Spetsnaz unit claims that 34 officers in total were killed in the explosion.
A huge plume of black smoke was seen billowing from the building last Friday in one of Ukraine’s most stunning missile assaults of the war. The direct hit on the naval command center was a symbolic blow for Russia as the Black Sea Fleet has been a source of national pride since it was established by Catherine the Great in 1783.
President Vladimir Putin fired the commander of the fleet last year after it suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks including the sinking of its lead warship, the Moskva, and an attack on its air base in Crimea that saw eight warplanes destroyed.
Sokolov, who previously held a prestigious role as the head of a military academy, was brought back into active service to reinstate pride in the Black Sea Fleet.
His death—compounded by those of so many of his colleagues—in the heart of the fleet’s operation would represent a severe blow to that pride.
Over the weekend, rumors on social media began to suggest that Sokolov had been caught up in the explosion. The Special Operations Forces posted its confirmation on Telegram on Monday.
“After the attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters, 34 officers, including the Commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, lost their lives, with an additional 105 occupants sustaining injuries. The headquarters building is beyond repair,” the Telegram statement read.
The special forces unit did not name any of the other victims of the attack by one of the Storm Shadow air-launched missiles donated by Britain and France earlier this year.
Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, previously said Col. Gen. Alexander Romanchuk, the commander of Russian forces on the southern front, and Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsekov were seriously wounded in the attack.
Ukraine has been desperate to prove that it can make serious gains in the remainder of the fighting season before winter sets in and, in particular, Kyiv wants to show the skeptical West that it is capable of retaking Crimea.