Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters were in flames after a missile attack on Friday, bringing yet more woe to Vladimir Putin after Ukraine’s tanks reportedly broke through his final line of defence in western Zaporizhzhia.
Photographs show firefighters battling the blaze in the port city of Sevastopol while the Russian defence ministry confirmed one serviceman was missing in action as a result of the assault.
The attack took place less than 24 hours after Ukrainian armoured vehicles reportedly advanced over the front line – known as the Surovikin line – in western Zaporizhzhia for the first time, signalling a major breakthrough for Kyiv’s counteroffensive in the region.
The two events come as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky looked to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau for further military support, after securing a $325m defence package from US president Joe Biden on Thursday.
The Russian defence ministry said five missiles were shot down by air defence systems responding to the attack on Sevastopol on Friday. Sevastopol residents said they heard explosions in the skies and saw smoke, followed by pictures emerging of buildings on fire.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility, but Ukraine’s air force commander posted a video of air sirens blazing and smoke rising from the building along with a message thanking the pilots. “We promised that ‘there will be more,’” Lieutenant General Mykola Oleschuk said.
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said no one was injured, but did not provide information on other casualties.
Meanwhile, in western Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian tanks have reportedly punched through the Surovikin line for the first time, according to a report published by the Institute for the Study of War.
For months, Ukraine’s progress in the region has struggled against the 81-mile line heavily fortified with defensive weapons, including tank traps, minefields and huge concrete blocks designed to stop armoured vehicles.
The advance, although not yet confirmed, could open the way for Ukraine’s western tanks and reserve troops to reach the Sea of Azov and effectively cut Russian forces in half. However, Russian-appointed officials in Zaporizhzhia claim Ukrainian soldiers were forced to retreat after a failed assault on the line.
Some 575 days into the conflict, experts see the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive to liberate Zaporizhzhia as the key to breaking Russia’s backbone, and potentially winning the war.
The battle to win back territory in the south has been costly for Ukraine over the past few months. There has, however, been progress. Earlier this month, forces captured the village of Robotyne. Since then, Kyiv has focused on breaching and opening a gap in the Surovikin line by moving toward the village of Verbove.
The latest events will be a boost for Mr Zelensky, who on Wednesday accused Russia of weaponising everything from food to energy during an address to the UN General Assembly.
Mr Zelensky told world leaders: “While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after the Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation.”
Visiting president Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday, Mr Zelensky secured a fresh $325m aid package that will include air defence systems and other weaponry to help Kyiv face a tough winter. And on Friday, he was meeting Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau as he rallied for further support to Ukrainian war efforts.