Ukraine Situation Report: Families Of Moskva Sailors Left In The Dark
New details about the fate of Russia’s Black Sea flagship and its crew are slowly starting to trickle out.
Just how many members of the crew of the Russian Navy's Project 1164 Slava class cruiser Moskva died or were injured as a result of the events that led to its sinking last week remains unclear. Authorities in Russia have been extremely tight-lipped about what happened to the ship and those on board, even as pictures and video footage that appears to show it heavily damaged have begun to emerge, something you can read more about here.
Some families of sailors assigned to Moskva say they have now received notifications from Russia's Ministry of Defense that their loved ones either perished or survived, but many more say they have received no such confirmations. It has now been more than three days since the cruiser sank in the Black Sea, which happened after it was struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, according to officials in Ukraine and the United States.
Separately, Russian forces carried out a new round of missile strikes targeting military and other sites in the far western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which lies just around 40 miles from the Polish border, killing at least seven people and injuring 12 more. Even before the conflict began, Lviv had become a major hub for military and humanitarian aid, foreign diplomatic activity, and refugees fleeing fighting in the eastern part of the country.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
Before getting into the latest updates below, The War Zone readers can first get fully up to speed on how the conflict has evolved already through our previous rolling coverage here.
POSTED: 3:25 PM EST—
Multiple outlets reported today that Yulia Tsyvova, a resident of Crimea, had told them that the Russian Ministry of Defense had informed her of the death of her son, Andrei Tsyvova, said to have been a member of Moskva's crew. Tsyvova said that she received no additional information about what exactly happened to Andrei, who was initially said to have been missing after the ship sank, including any potential funeral arrangements.
So far, the Russian Ministry of Defense has not provided an official tally of the dead and wounded. There were reportedly around 500 personnel on the ship when it suffered a fire and explosion last week, which were the result of a strike involving Ukraine's domestically-developed shore-based Neptune anti-ship missile, according to Ukrainian and American authorities.
Yesterday, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which stopped operating in the country in March amid pressure from state censors, reported that a mother of a different sailor had told the outlet that at least around 40 members of Moskva's crew had died. She said that information had come from her son, who survived and who also told her that three Neptune missiles had struck the ship, rather than two as has been widely reported.
Other estimates, based on an official video showing surviving members of Moskva's crew, have indicated that the losses could be substantially higher. Other reports say that some families have been able to find their loved ones among some 200 injured members of the cruiser's crew, including burn victims, now receiving treatment at a military hospital on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. Moskva was the flagship of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, which is currently headquartered in Crimea.
It's unclear whether or not the Russian government even knows yet how many members of Moskva's crew have died. Andrei Tsyvova is not the only sailor to have been listed as missing.
“A conscript who isn’t supposed to see active fighting is among those missing in action,” Dmitry Shkrebets, father of Yegor Shkrebets, said to be one of Moskva's cooks, wrote online, according to The Guardian. “Guys, how can you be missing in action in the middle of the high seas?!!!”
The matter of conscripted sailors being on the ship may further complicate matters. Since the very beginning of the conflict, Russian authorities have sought to obscure the participation of conscripts, including reportedly by forcing individuals to sign formal service contracts. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously pledged that no conscripts would be deployed to Ukraine, despite clear evidence that they have been taking part in the fighting there since the start.
Bereaved and aggrieved families are likely to be one important source of information about what actually happened to Moskva last week. Details have been otherwise slow to trickle out so far. A senior U.S. defense official said today that American authorities cannot yet independently verify a video that appears to show the cruiser after the reported missile strike, but that the damage is in line with previous assessments. That individual said the U.S. government had information that lifeboats had been launched, indicating at least some of the crew survived.
A senior U.S. defense official reiterated today that American authorities do not believe that Moskva was carrying nuclear weapons when it sank.
Separately, authorities in the western city of Lviv have confirmed that a number of Russian cruise missiles struck multiple sites earlier today, including military-related infrastructure and a tire repair garage. Citing operational security concerns, they declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the military targets. A number of individuals, including civilians, died or were wounded in the strikes.
Imagery from the aftermath of the strikes suggests that railway infrastructure was among the targets. This would make sense, given that Lviv is a major transshipment point for foreign military aid, which is then moved elsewhere in the country by various means including via rail. There have been reports that commercial automotive facilities in Ukraine have been working to repair or otherwise modify military vehicles and weapons, which could offer one explanation for the strike on the tire repair shop.
Ukrainian authorities have released a video wherein detained pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk asks to be traded for both the safe passage of military forces and civilians out of the strategic southern port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Mariupol continues to be subjected to a withering weeks-long Russian seige as Ukrainian Marines and members of the controversial neo-Nazi-linked volunteer Azov Battalion continue to hold out in an area around the Azovstal iron and steel works.
Ukrainian forces in Mariupol have been separately pleading for the country's government to try to break the siege. If not, they say they are ready to fight to the end.
Russian forces finally taking control of the entire city of Mariupol would be a major strategic victory, helping to secure a critical land bridge to occupied Crimea. It would also free up ground units and other resources to fight elsewhere in the country.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence has released its own new assessment of Russia's campaign to capture Mariupol.
A senior U.S. defense official said earlier today Russia's military still retained the vast majority of the combat capacity originally assembled for its invasion of Ukraine. The total number of Russian battalion tactical groups has actually increased compared to last week, according to the U.S. military. It's possible that these include units that were withdrawn from areas of northern Ukraine and were then resupplied before being recommitted elsewhere. Additional battalion tactical groups are still in the resupply/refit process.
Ukrainian officials say that the Russian Navy currently has five ships in the Black Sea capable of carrying up to 36 Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles. This could indicate more strikes upon targets in Western Ukraine could be imminent.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence has released its latest new map showing the front lines in the country.
Two British nationals who were captured while fighting for the Ukrainian armed forces have appeared on Russian state media making their own appeals, very possibly under duress, to be swapped for Medvedchuk. The oligarch, a long-time Putin ally in Ukraine, had skipped out on his house arrest after the Russian military launched its all-out invasion in Febraury. He was already under indictment for treason before the conflict began.
The captain of one of Russia's Ropucha class large landing ships has reportedly died as a result of injuries sustained in an incident in the southern Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk last month. Details about what happened there are still murky, but a Russian Navy Alligator class landing ship, the Orsk, caught fire and exploded, with reports that a Ukrainian attack might have been responsible for the damage. Two Ropuchas were observed evacuating the area at the time, at least one of which appeared to have been damaged, as well.
The Russian government announced today that the country's 64th Motor Rifle Brigade has been designated a "Guards" unit, an honorific title given to formations that have distinguished themselves in combat. The official notice from the Kremlin said that the brigade had shown "mass heroism protecting the fatherland, Russia's sovereignty, and its national interests." This unit is also among those that Ukrainian authorities say were directly responsible for the massacre of civilians in the town of Bucha outside of the capital Kyiv, one of a growing number of alleged Russian war crimes committed during this conflict.
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