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How Ukraine, With No Warships, Is Thwarting Russia’s Navy


In a small, hidden office in the port city of Odesa, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy keeps two trophies representing successes in the Black Sea.

One is the lid from the missile tube used in April 2022 to sink the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, a devastating blow that helped chase Russian warships from the Ukrainian coast. On the lid is a painting of a Ukrainian soldier raising his middle finger to the ship as it bursts into flames.

The other is a key used to arm a British-made Storm Shadow missile that slammed into the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula.

“We dreamed of making a beautiful recreation park for children in this place, to take away the center of evil that is there now,” said Vice Adm. Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the Ukrainian naval commander.

He held the key in his hand, and although his eyes were tired, he said there was nothing to do but fight.

“Sevastopol is my hometown,” he said. “For me, it is my small homeland, where I was born, where my children were born. So, of course, I dream that the time will come, hopefully soon, that we will return to our naval base in Sevastopol.”

Admiral Neizhpapa cautioned that Ukraine remains vastly outgunned on the Black Sea. It lacks the battlecruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines that populate the Russian fleet. Russian planes still dominate the skies above the sea, and Russia still uses its fleet to launch long-range missiles at Ukrainian towns and cities, threatening armed forces and civilians alike.

On Wednesday, a missile struck a commercial ship pulling into the port of Odesa, killing the pilot and wounding three crew members. It was the first civilian vessel hit since shipping to Odesa resumed in late August.

Even as forward movement on the ground has largely shuddered to a halt, with neither Russian nor Ukrainian forces able to break through heavily fortified lines, Ukraine has effectively turned around 10,000 square miles in the western Black Sea off its southern coast into what the military calls a “gray zone” where neither side can sail without the threat of attack.

And Admiral Neizhpapa stressed that Ukraine’s combined armed forces and its security services were all playing integral roles in the battle of the Black Sea.

James Heappey, Britain’s armed forces minister, told a recent security conference in Warsaw that Russia’s Black Sea fleet had suffered a “functional defeat” and contended that the liberation of Ukraine’s coastal waters in the Black Sea was “every bit as important” as the successful counteroffensives on land in Kherson and Kharkiv last year.

The war at sea has also demonstrated the impact of emerging technologies, transforming long-held theories about naval warfare in ways that are being studied around the world, perhaps nowhere more closely than in China and Taiwan.

“The classical approach that we studied at military maritime academies does not work now,” Admiral Neizhpapa said. “Therefore, we have to be as flexible as possible and change approaches to planning and implementing work as much as possible.”

For example, he said, it takes years to develop and build warships and more time to update them to meet new challenges. Yet maritime drones are evolving every month.

Admiral Neizhpapa acknowledged that Russian air superiority over the Black Sea is a problem and has stressed the value that F-16 fighter jets would bring to Ukraine’s naval war. The United States has pledged F-16s, but Ukrainian officials have said they are unlikely to be seen in Ukrainian skies before next summer.


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