Ukraine war: Russia dealt a big blow as giant flagship sinks
Kyiv, Ukraine - The Moskva, a Russian flagship damaged amid the invasion of Ukraine this week, has sunk during a storm, dealing a highly symbolic blow to Russia.
Citing the Defense Ministry, the TASS news agency said the ship "sank in stormy weather" as it was being towed for repairs.
The exact nature of what happened to the ship remains unclear. It caught fire on Thursday, prompting its evacuation. Ukrainian forces claimed it was hit by a missile strike, but Russia insisted an onboard accident was to blame. A Pentagon report earlier said it is impossible to say.
The TASS report only said that the ship had to be towed away because of damage to its aft section.
Russia's Defense Ministry had already confirmed a fire on board the ship late on Wednesday, as well as the explosion of ammunition stores on board.
It said on Thursday that after the explosion of the ammunition stores, the crew had been evacuated, the missiles on board the ship had been secured, and the ship was being towed to port for repairs.
In an earlier tweet, Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych contradicted this, claiming the ship had sunk, following reports of two missiles striking the warship on Wednesday evening.
The Moskva, which is the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, has been used to launch missile strikes on Ukrainian targets since the war began.
Conflicting reports over Mariupol
Elsewhere on Thursday, the Russian army announced that it had taken complete control of Mariupol's largely destroyed port, having "liberated" it from the Azov Battalion, a far-right unit of the Ukrainian National Guard.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov announced that 1,160 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered to Russian troops in the fiercely contested city during the fighting.
Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko described the Russian reports of Mariupol's fall and Ukrainian mass surrenders as fake news, telling German broadcaster ARD that "Mariupol was, is, and will continue to be a Ukrainian city."
Mariupol has been under siege for weeks, with civilians remaining in the city forced to hold out without water, food or power. The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that Russian troops would "probably" capture the city next week.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said her country had completed its fourth prisoner exchange with Russia, adding that 22 military personnel and eight civilians had been handed over to Kyiv.
She did not say how many Russians had been handed over in return. Moscow has not given any details so far.
Russia designated a "terrorist state"
Nine safe corridors were set up in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to enable citizens to evacuate the area's besieged cities and towns, according to the government.
One route has been set up for private vehicles to leave the embattled city of Mariupol for nearby Zaporizhzhia, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Thursday.
A further eight corridors leading to the city of Bakhmut had been set up in the Luhansk region, she said, stressing that they would only work if Russian shelling stopped.
An evacuation train from the city of Pokrovsk in Donetsk had also been expected to run, heading first to Kyiv before continuing to Chop in south-western Ukraine, according to the government.
Such routes are announced on a daily basis but have proved difficult to implement, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces accusing the other of sabotaging evacuation attempts.
Moscow's forces are now thought to be focusing their attacks on the east and south of Ukraine, with analysts predicting a major new offensive in the region in the near future.
Also on Thursday, Russia accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out an attack on its soil close to the shared border.
"Soldiers of the Ukrainian armed forces illegally penetrated Russian airspace in two helicopters equipped with heavy weapons," Russian state prosecutors said in launching criminal proceedings.
The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday classified Russia a terrorist state and banned symbols related to its war in Ukraine.
"The Russian Federation is a terrorist state, one of the goals of the political regime is state genocide of the Ukrainian people, physical extermination, mass murder of the citizens of Ukraine," the law stated.
Earlier this month, hundreds of bodies were discovered in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Borodyanka, Hostomel, and Irpin, among others.
Cover photo: REUTERS