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Ukraine claims it destroyed Russian tank landing ship

By Brad Lendon, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine claimed on Tuesday to have carried out an airstrike in Crimea that destroyed a Russian Navy tank landing ship in what would be, if confirmed, the third instance of major losses of Russian military hardware in less than a week.

In a post on Telegram, Ukrainian Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk thanked personnel involved in “the destruction of the Novocherkassk large landing ship” while it was in the port of Feodosia in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

CNN cannot independently verify the claim, but videos posted on social media showed large explosions in the Feodosia port.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Novocherkassk had been “damaged” in a Ukrainian attack in a statement reported by the state-run TASS news agency.

The Russia-appointed head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, earlier acknowledged via a statement that there had been “an enemy attack in [the] Feodosia area,” adding that “detonation has stopped and the fire has been localized.”

One person was killed and two injured in the Ukrainian strikes, Aksyonov said in an update on Telegram, though he did not mention the Novocherkassk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated his military Tuesday for striking the Russian warship.

“I am grateful to our Air Force for the spectacular replenishment of the Russian Black Sea submarine fleet with another vessel. There will be no peaceful place for the occupiers in Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a statement.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “reported to [President Vladimir Putin] about the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ attack on Feodosia and the damage to the large landing ship Novocherkassk,” a statement released by the Kremlin said Tuesday.

According to a US military fact sheet on the Novocherkassk and the other vessels in its Ropucha class, the 369-foot (112.5-meter) vessel displaces about 3,450 tons, making about the same size as a US Navy littoral combat ship.

The Novocherkassk carries a crew of around 87 with capacity for 237 troops, according to the US military. It was not known how many personnel may have been aboard in the alleged Ukrainian attack.

The ship is designed for beach landings with bow and stern doors and the ability to accommodate up to 25 armored personnel carriers on its vehicle deck.

Oleshchuk, the Ukrainian commander, said the vessel had been carrying Iran-made Shahed attack drones.

He said the Novocherkassk had “followed” the Moskva, the guided-missile cruiser that was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet before it sank in April 2022 after being struck by Ukrainian missiles.

Ukraine also claimed in September that the Novocherkassk’s sister ship, the Minsk, had been destroyed in an attack on the Sevastopol naval base in Crimea.

The British Defense Ministry reported that an analysis of open-source intelligence found the Minsk was “almost certainly functionally destroyed” and the Russian submarine Rostov-on-Don also suffered catastrophic damage in that attack.

If the destruction of the Novocherkassk is confirmed, it could be the third instance in the past week of the Russian military suffering losses of important hardware in combat, according to Ukrainian claims.

On Christmas Eve, the Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed an Su-24 fighter jet in the eastern Donetsk region and an Su-30SM fighter jet over the Black Sea.

And on Friday, Zelensky said the country’s forces had downed three Russian Su-34 warplanes.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat told Ukrainian media on Friday that Su-34 jets “are one of the newest aircraft” in service with the Russian army and are used to carry out aerial bomb and missile strikes.

According to Ihnat, each aircraft can cost “at least $50 million.”

CNN has not been able to confirm the Russian aircraft losses.

But they would be welcome successes for Ukraine after a period when the almost two-year-old war has not been going Kyiv’s way.

“The most useful headline for Kyiv should be how unutterably bleak the frontlines are for them now. In nearly every direction, the news is grim,” CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported on December 17.

Walsh noted Ukraine was facing stepped up Russian attacks from the air and on the ground while international support for its war effort was flagging, including Zelensky’s failure to convince the US Congress to continue funding military hardware past the end of the year while on a visit to Washington.

Shoigu, in his final conference call of the year on Tuesday, declared what he claimed was the successful completion of the main objective for Russia’s war effort in 2023, emphasizing what he considered the disruption of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military has requested 500,000 additional troops, David Arakhamia, leader of the parliamentary majority said via Telegram on Monday.

The government is drafting a bill on mobilization of troops to address the question of troop recruitment, he added.

CNN’s Olga Voitovych, Svitlana Vlasova, Mariya Knight, Anna Chernova and Esha Mitra contributed to this report.

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This story has been updated with additional details.

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