Ukraine says it has sunk a Russian patrol ship near Crimea

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian sea drones hit and sank a Russian Black Sea Fleet patrol ship off occupied Crimea in an overnight attack, the Ukrainian military said on Tuesday.

Ukraine's GUR military intelligence agency said a special unit called Group 13 had fired Magura V5 maritime drones at the Sergey Kotov near the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

It said on the Telegram messaging app that the vessel had sustained damage to the stern, starboard and port sides, at an estimated cost of $65 million.

"Right now this ship is on the seabed as a result of fire damage by unmanned boats," navy spokesperson Dmytro Pletenchuk said in televised comments.

Andriy Yusov, a GUR spokesperson, said a helicopter had been on board the vessel.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made no direct reference to the reported sinking of the vessel in his nightly video address.

But he said Ukraine had "proven what we are capable of, what our strength is capable of."

"That is shown by the number of downed Russian aircraft and the capabilities of our boys against the Russian fleet. There are no safe havens for Russian terrorists in the Black Sea and nor will there be."

And there would be, he said, "no safe space for them in the sky, given sufficient Ukrainian strength".

Reuters was unable to verify the reports. Russia's defence ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Some Russian military bloggers confirmed the account. The Telegram channel VChK-OGPU reported attempts to tow the ship to port but said it eventually sank.

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up attacks in the Black Sea and on Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed in 2014. Kyiv has reported a series of strikes, including the sinking of a large landing ship by naval drones in mid-February.

Pletenchuk said the Sergey Kotov had also been hit in September 2023 and that a similar patrol vessel had been damaged in attacks since Russia's invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

"They have four similar ships, two of them are no longer in service," he said.

Reuters was unable to confirm the earlier strikes.

Train and highway traffic was temporarily stopped and later resumed on a bridge spanning the Kerch Strait and linking the Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland, Moscow-installed officials in Crimea said.

Russia controls close to one-fifth of Ukraine's territory. Zelenskiy said in November Kyiv had seized the initiative in the Black Sea and forced back Russia's fleet.

(Reporting by Sergiy Karazy, Pavel Polityuk, Lidia Kelly, Yuliia Dysa; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Timothy Heritage, Ron Popeski and Jonathan Oatis)