The Russian Defence Ministry reported on September 22 that a missile strike originating from Ukraine hit the Russian Crimean city of Sevastopol as Ukraine increasingly targets the disputed peninsula.
Ukraine said dozens of people including "senior Russian navy commanders" died or were injured when it staged a missile attack on Moscow's Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol.
"Among the wounded is the commander of the grouping, Colonel-General Romanchuk, who is in a grave condition. Their Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Tsekov, remains unconscious. The number of affected military servicemen who are not part of the headquarters is still being verified. These are military personnel who were on duty, serving as guards, and so on – they are not included in the list that I spoke about," according to chief of Ukraine's defence intelligence, GUR, Kyrylo Budanov, who spoke with the Voice of America.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Commander, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, who has been responsible for the defence of the Crimea, has also reportedly been killed, although Budanov was not able to confirm the news.
Unconfirmed reports say that Russia’s commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Nikolayevich Sokolov, has been killed in a missile attack on the Black Sea headquarters in Sevastopol.
At the same time, Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) reports they have broken through the third and final Russian defence line the western Zaporizhia Oblast on the southern front where Ukraine’s counter offensive is concentrated.
The strike on Sevastopol resulted in damage to the building housing Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the centre of the city. One Russian serviceman was reported missing following the missile strike. In response, Russian air defences reports successfully intercepting and downing five other missiles over the city of Sevastopol. Ukraine employed Storm Shadow long-range missiles in executing this strike, according to various reports.
Several hours later, the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate confirmed the attack, but withheld specific details regarding the attack.
Ukraine's Air Force Commander, Mykola Oleshchuk, took to social media, sharing a video that unveiled the aftermath of the missile strike. He extended his gratitude to Ukrainian pilots for their actions and proclaimed, "Sevastopol is the city of the Naval Forces of Ukraine's Armed Forces! Together - to victory!" the Kyiv Independent reports.
Sevastopol, situated on the southwestern shore of the Crimean Peninsula, has long been a point of contention, and this recent missile strike has further heightened tensions in the region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been pushing the US to supply long-range ATACMS missiles, but the White House has been dragging its feet, afraid Kyiv will use the missiles to strike targets inside Russia proper and risk escalating the war to the point where the US gets dragged in. On September 22, the White House said that it may send a “small number” of the ATACMS missiles soon.
Meanwhile, counteroffensive continues to make progress, albeit slowly. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reports that the AFU has broken through Russia’s defences on the southern front and is now operating in Russia’s rear of the line.
“Ukrainian armoured vehicles are operating beyond the final line of the Russian defensive layer that Ukrainian forces in western Zaporizhia Oblast are currently penetrating, although ISW is not yet prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken fully through this Russian defensive layer,” ISW said in a report.
Geolocated footage posted on September 21 indicates that Ukrainian armoured vehicles advanced south of the Russian anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles that are part of a tri-layered defence and engaged in limited combat immediately west of Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv), ISW reported. “It is unclear if Ukrainian forces retain these positions, however,” says ISW.
The institute also reported that for the first time the AFU had advanced through the lines using armoured vehicles beyond the Russian tri-layer defence. Until now the extensive minefields had prevented the use of western-supplied armoured vehicles, which are prone to losing their tracks when they hit a mine and being disabled. That has meant the AFU has to advance through the minefields on foot and are vulnerable to sniper and artillery fire.
“The presence of Ukrainian armoured vehicles beyond the final line of the current Russian defensive layer indicates that the Ukrainians have secured their breach of the first two lines of this layer sufficiently to operate vehicles through the breach,” ISW says. “Ukrainian forces have likely suppressed Russian artillery and other anti-tank systems in the area enough to bring their vehicles forward.”
Russian forces currently defending in western Zaporizhia Oblast have been unable to prevent Ukrainian forces from making gradual but steady advances since mid-August, following a change of tactics after Ukraine’s high command held a secret meeting with top Nato generals that recommended the AFU concentrate its forces in the south.
ISW has consistently observed Ukrainian forces making slow but regular advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast despite the Russian military’s lateral redeployment of elements of relatively elite units to reinforce Russian defensive operations there.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been in the US for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and went on to Washington to meet Congress where he has had a difficult time building up support for more military and financial aid in the face of growing Ukraine fatigue amongst his Western allies.
US politicians have been calling on Kyiv to account for how the billions in military and macro stability aid has been spent, as the war in Ukraine increasingly becomes a domestic political issue ahead of next year’s US presidential elections. The slow progress of the counteroffensive has fuelled the growing fatigue with the war as some ask if this will turn into another of the US’ “endless wars.”