Russia has replaced the head of its Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea after a series of explosions shook the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously viewed as a secure rear camp for its war with Ukraine.
Moscow attributed Tuesday's explosions that consumed a weapons depot in northern Crimea to sabotage. The Russian publication Kommersant said smoke was afterward observed rising from a second Russian military station in central Crimea.
Ukraine has not formally accepted responsibility but has alluded to doing so. The apparent Ukrainian capability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory with weapons or sabotage signifies a change in the fight. Last week, explosions destroyed warplanes at a Russian navy installation in Crimea.
Yesterday, sources told the Russian news agency RIA that the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced by Viktor Sokolov.
If confirmed, this would be one of the most notable dismissals of a military official in a conflict in which Russia has sustained tremendous casualties in personnel and equipment.
According to reports quoted by the state-owned RIA, the new commander was unveiled to the fleet's military council in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea Fleet, which has a long and illustrious history in Russia, had seen multiple humiliations since February 24, when President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow refers to as a "special military operation."
In April, Ukraine fired Neptune missiles against its flagship, the massive warship Moskva, and it was the largest battleship sunk in combat in forty years.
More grain ships depart
Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and has since heavily militarized, serves as the principal supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv plans an offensive in the coming weeks.
According to a statement issued by the Ukrainian military intelligence, following the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces have relocated some of their aircraft and helicopters to airfields within Russia. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
Since the beginning of the war, the Black Sea fleet has also blockaded Ukraine's ports, immobilizing critical grain supplies that are only just beginning to move again under an accord brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Wednesday saw the departure of three more ships from Ukraine, according to the infrastructure ministry's Facebook page.
"This morning, three vessels carrying Ukrainian food supplies departed from the ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa... More than 33,000 tons of agricultural products are on board.
Attacks were reported in Kharkiv.
The war has forced millions to flee, killed thousands, and widened the geopolitical chasm between the West and Russia, which asserts that its operation's objective is to demilitarize its neighbor and safeguard Russian-speaking areas.
Ukraine, which gained independence from Moscow with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, accuses Russia of waging an imperialistic conquest war.
On the six-month anniversary of Russia's invasion, the United States, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom have requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on August 24 to review the impact of the war in Ukraine according to officials.
In the meantime, Russia continued its ground campaign on many fronts, including Kharkiv in the northeast, the Donbas in the east and southeast, and Kherson and Zaporizhia in central and southern Ukraine.
In an online video, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhadanov said, "Russian shelling has generally increased dramatically."
Yesterday evening, Russian bombardments in a residential section of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, killed seven and injured sixteen, according to the Ukrainian Emergencies Service.
Kharkiv has been subjected to numerous attacks, and Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, condemned Wednesday's assault on Telegram, calling it a "devious and cynical attack on civilians without justification." Zhadanov stated that Russian mining activities in Kharkiv were intended to halt the advance of Ukrainian forces. "This is the most prevalent usage in this region," he stated.
In the eastern Donetsk area, which has witnessed some of the worst combat, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported that two civilians were killed and seven were injured in the past 24 hours due to shelling by Russian forces. Reuters was unable to verify the Kharkiv and Donetsk stories independently.
The Ukrainian government has ordered mass evacuations in Donetsk, but one couple on a tiny farm near the city of Kramatorsk refused to go.
"Grandmother cannot be transported; she is almost 100 years old," remarked 47-year-old Nataliia Ataiantz as she examined the elderly woman. For her husband, Oleksandr, the concept of departure was "terrifying."
"Our parents are laid to rest here. And this is also our land... where else would we go, a foreign country?' he asked.