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Ukraine says it hit two Russian naval vessels in major attack on Crimea

By Andrew Carey, Maria Kostenko and Josh Pennington, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine says it hit two Russian naval vessels, along with a communications center and several other facilities belonging to the Black Sea Fleet, in a huge overnight attack on the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

There has been no comment from Russian defense officials, although Russian politician and Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev acknowledged on his Telegram channel that it was the “most massive attack in recent times.”

A video posted to a local Telegram channel shows a series of large explosions in the city, sending fireballs and thick black smoke into the air. Another fireball can be seen in the far distance.

Ukraine said the vessels hit were two amphibious landing ships, the Yamal and the Azov. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

Hailing the attacks, Ukrainian air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on social media, “The sky and the sea are of the same color! I thank the pilots and navy for their successful combat work! Crimea is ours! To the victory together!”

Making no reference to any military sites hit, Razvozhayev said one person had been killed in the attack. Maritime and ground transportation in the city, he said, had been “partially damaged.”

Elsewhere in Crimea, Russian military bloggers say Ukrainian forces also targeted sites in the west and the center of the illegally-annexed peninsular, including at Hvardiiske, which lies just north of Crimea’s administrative center, Simferopol. Users posting video to a local Telegram channel have suggested an oil depot there was attacked.

CNN is unable to immediately verify the latest claims by either side.

While Moscow appears clearly to have the upper hand in its ground campaign, Kyiv’s forces have enjoyed sustained successes targeting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, in either missile strikes or sea drone attacks.

More than 20 Russian naval vessels have now been disabled or destroyed, a third of the entire fleet. Though Ukraine has virtually no navy of its own, technological innovation, audacity and Russian incompetence have given it the upper hand in much of the Black Sea. In October last year, satellite imagery indicated that Russia relocated some of its naval ships away from Sevastopol after a series of Ukrainian attacks.

If Sunday’s strikes on the Yamal and Azov are confirmed, it would likely mean Russia had only three working landing ships left in the Black Sea. Ukraine says Moscow began the full-scale invasion with 13 such vessels.

In September, a Ukrainian missile strike also destroyed the fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol.

For Ukraine, the impact is not just military but also economic, because it helps to secure a shipping corridor from Odesa and other ports towards the Bosphorus Strait, allowing Ukraine to sell grain and other products on world markets.

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Previous reporting from Tim Lister, Anna Chernova, Victoria Butenko, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Maria Kostenko and Paul Murphy

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