Morning Chronicle - Russian warship hit in Black Sea, as Moscow accuses Kyiv of border strikes

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Russian warship hit in Black Sea, as Moscow accuses Kyiv of border strikes
Russian warship hit in Black Sea, as Moscow accuses Kyiv of border strikes / Photo: - - AFP/File

Russian warship hit in Black Sea, as Moscow accuses Kyiv of border strikes

Ukraine claimed Thursday to have hit Russia's flagship in the Black Sea with missiles, igniting a fire that Moscow said "seriously damaged" the warship as it accused Kyiv of helicopter strikes elsewhere over its territory.

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Even as Ukraine pushed to restart civilian evacuations ahead of a feared major offensive in the east, Russia claimed its own citizens were being targeted, accusing Ukraine of injuring civilians in helicopter strikes on residential buildings in its western Bryansk region.

Kyiv forcefully denied the accusation, saying Russia was staging "terror attacks" on its own soil to spur "anti-Ukrainian hysteria".

The guided missile cruiser Moskva, previously deployed in the Syria conflict, has been leading Moscow's naval effort to pummel Ukraine's southern coasts and interior in the nearly seven-week conflict that has sparked accusations of genocide by US President Joe Biden.

Russian state media made no mention of any missile strike when quoting the defence ministry as saying ammunition detonated on the Moskva after a fire broke out and "the ship was seriously damaged". It said the crew had evacuated.

Two officials in Odessa -- a critical port for Ukraine both for commerce and defence -- confirmed that Ukrainian forces had struck the ship.

"The cause of the 'serious damage' was 'Neptune' domestic cruise missiles," said Odessa military administration spokesman Sergey Bratchuk on Telegram. Odessa's governor published a similar dispatch.

Russia's defence ministry said the fire had been extinguished and the vessel "remains afloat" with its "main missile armaments" unharmed.

Meanwhile in Ukraine's east and south, civilian evacuations had been set to resume Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said, after a day-long pause that Kyiv blamed on Russian shelling.

More than 4.7 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the 50 days since Russia invaded, the United Nations said.

In the previous day alone almost 80,000 people left the country, it said.

- More range -

The flagship fire came hours after the United States unveiled a new $800-million military aid package to Kyiv that includes heavy equipment specifically tailored to an expected major ground assault in Ukraine's east, including howitzers, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters.

Following its pullout from northern Ukraine earlier this month after failing to take the capital, Russia is refocusing on the east, with Kyiv warning of bloody new clashes to come in the Donbas region.

Seizing the Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, would allow Russia to create a solid southern corridor, including the contested port city of Mariupol, to occupied Crimea.

The Pentagon -- which had previously refused to send heavy equipment to Kyiv for fear of escalating the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia -- said the choice of weapons would "give them a little more range and distance."

Moscow's Black Sea fleet, led by the Moskva, has been blockading the besieged city of Mariupol, where the Russian defence ministry said Wednesday its troops had full control of the port.

It announced more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol had surrendered, a claim yet to be confirmed by Ukraine.

Meanwhile, 30 Ukrainian prisoners of war were being returned by Russia as part of the most recent captive exchange. They included 17 soldiers, five officers, and eight civilians, Vereshchuk said Thursday.

- Bombings never stop -

In what appeared to be the first time Moscow had officially accused Ukrainian forces of flying helicopters into Russia to carry out an attack, officials said at least six air strikes hit residential buildings in its Bryansk region Thursday, injuring seven people including a toddler.

"Using two military helicopters carrying heavy weaponry, Ukrainian armed forces illegally entered Russian air space," Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The report could not be immediately verified.

Ukraine's national security and defence council accused Russia on social media of staging "terror attacks" on its own soil to stir up resentment against Ukrainians.

Russia's accusation followed its threat Wednesday to strike command centres in Kyiv if Ukraine's military launched attacks on Russian soil.

In a statement, Russia's military cited unspecified "attempts to carry out sabotage" by Ukrainian troops.

But those in eastern Ukraine say they have "no rest" from bombardments, especially in Severodonetsk, the last easterly city still held by Ukrainian forces.

The nearly empty city just kilometres from the frontline has already buried 400 civilians since the war began, according to Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday.

"There's no electricity, no water," Maria, who lives with her husband and mother-in-law, told AFP. "But I prefer to stay here, at home. If we leave, where will we go?"

"The bombings? It's like this all the time," Maria said as the sound of shelling echoed through her home.

Tamara Yakovenko, 61, and her 83-year-old mother had decided to run the risk of departing the near ghost town, where "every 10 or 15 minutes there are bombings".

"We used to receive humanitarian aid, but now nobody remembers us. Some people try to cook outside on a fire... And boom, boom... everyone has to run back to the basement. All night until morning, there is no rest."

Beyond the humanitarian crisis, the war's economic consequences -- primarily surging food and fuel prices -- were ricocheting across the globe, undercutting the recovery and affecting the poorest, the International Monetary Fund said Thursday.

"The economic consequences from the war spread fast and far, to neighbours and beyond, hitting hardest the world's most vulnerable people," said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in Washington.

- Must intervene -

Investigators have descended on areas around Kyiv previously occupied by Russian forces, searching for evidence of potential war crimes.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court called Ukraine a "crime scene" during a visit to Bucha where officials say more than 400 people were found dead.

And a report published Wednesday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said evidence pointed to "a major war crime and a crime against humanity" by Russia.

Bucha has become synonymous with scores of atrocities alleged to have been committed by Russian troops, including civilians with bound hands shot in the head.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed reports of crimes against civilians as "fakes".

The atrocities -- some of which were witnessed by AFP -- have led Biden to accuse Putin of genocide a term other Western leaders have hesitated to use.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged caution Thursday, saying states who consider Russia's actions genocide "have an obligation under international law to intervene".

"Is that what people want? I don't think so."