The Vasiliy Bykov patrol ship, launched in 2018, was the first of the Project 22160 patrol ships to enter service. Three of these ships are now serving in the Russian Navy, with all three being deployed to the Black Sea Fleet, which Russia took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. A fourth Project 22160 ship was undergoing sea trials as of October 2021, and two more are in the works.
The Project 22160s are among the Russian Navy’s most modern vessels. Crushing one would have been a major setback for Russia, so it’s understandable that Ukrainian authorities were willing to pronounce Vasiliy Bykov dead.
Furthermore, Vasiliy Bykov had participated in the Russian military’s attack on Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island in the western Black Sea. The Ukrainian defenders there had almost achieved worldwide fame after audio of them denying a surrender order surfaced.
The 13 Ukrainian border guards stationed on Snake Island were initially assumed to have been slain in the ensuing onslaught, although this was later revealed untrue. Furthermore, they were quickly named Heroes of Ukraine by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Therefore, sinking or significantly destroying this ship as revenge would have increased propaganda.
Yet, there were doubts from the onset about the ability of shore-based short-range, unguided artillery rocket systems to kill a relatively small target, sailing out in the Black Sea. The Ukrainian armed forces accomplished this by luring the Russian ship closer to the coast until it was within range.
The assertions were supplemented by video footage of a burning vessel as proof that the attack had at least partially destroyed Vasiliy Bykov.
To hide Vasily Bykov’s demise, the Russian Navy may have camouflaged one of the other two Project 22160 patrol ships, maybe the Dmitriy Rogachev or the Pavel Derzhavin. However, comparisons of the ship’s current images with those taken before March 7 show that this is not true.
Vasily Bykov may have been mistaken for Dmitry Rogachev or Pavel Derzhavin by Ukrainian soldiers. On March 11, Dmitriy Rogachev was seen at Sevastopol with the Ukrainian rescue ship Sapphire, captured during the Snake Island operation. On the other hand, the photos could have been taken days ago. Around February 20, Pavel Derzhavin was last seen near the Sea of Azov, just before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
There is no undeniable proof that the footage of the burning ship off the coast, which is linked to Vasily Bykov’s demise, was falsified in any way. Even if the video shows another vessel on fire, it looks more genuine.
On February 25, the MV Millennial Spirit, a Moldovan-flagged chemical tanker, was hit by a Russian missile at the western part of the Black Sea, 18 miles southeast of Odesa. The disaster left two members of the ship’s 12-person crew badly injured.
Later, video evidence of the ship catching fire and emitting the same black smoke as the video allegedly of the damaged Vasiliy Bykov surfaced.