Russia salvages landing ship hit by Ukraine missile fire

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A 2020 photo of the Saratov (Black Sea Fleet website kchf.ru)Image source, kchf.ru
Image caption,
A 2020 photo of the Saratov

Russia says it has salvaged a large landing ship scuttled by its crew after a Ukrainian missile strike damaged it in the port of Berdyansk on 24 March.

A Telegram post by a Russian-appointed official in southern Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov, says Tochka-U ballistic missiles had targeted the Russian-held port.

The crew sank the ship "to prevent detonation of the on-board munitions by the fire that had started", he said.

At the time Ukraine said it had hit the ship. Only now has Russia confirmed it.

Russian reports do not give details of the ship's damage, but say it will be towed to Kerch in Crimea. The Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The Ukrainian military's report on the missile strike on 24 March named the landing ship as the Orsk - but the ship salvaged by Russia is the Saratov. The Orsk is another of the six large landing ships in Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

The fleet's website kchf.ru confirms that the Saratov was damaged and sank in port on 24 March - but does not mention the Ukrainian missile attack.

The ship "was damaged by fire and the explosions triggered by it", it says - contradicting the version given by Mr Rogov. "With damage to its hull the ship sank at its berth," the fleet website says.

Media caption,

Watch: Footage shows Russian ship destroyed, Ukraine says

The 58-year-old Saratov joined the Soviet navy in 1964. It can carry up to 20 tanks, or 45 armoured personnel carriers or 50 trucks, as well as up to 400 marines.

The ship is 113m (371ft) long and can carry a load of up to 1,500 tonnes.

Berdyansk lies on the Sea of Azov, between the port city of Mariupol and Crimea. Capturing Mariupol, now in ruins after months of bombardment, was a key strategic goal for the Russian military.

The Ukrainian military takes more pride in having knocked out the Black Sea Fleet flagship - the missile cruiser Moskva - in April. Two Neptune missiles were credited with having sunk it, though Russia disputes that, saying the ship sank after a big fire on board.