MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia said on Friday (April 22) that one crew member died and 27 were missing after the Moskva missile cruiser sank last week, Moscow's first admission of the losses following the tragedy.
The flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet had been leading Russia's naval effort in the nearly two-month conflict in Ukraine, playing a central role in the siege of the port city of Mariupol.
After the Moskva sank, parents and other family members of sailors who served aboard - including conscripts - took to social media, saying their children had gone missing and that they needed answers.
"As a result of a fire on April 13, the Moskva missile cruiser was seriously damaged due to the detonation of ammunition," the defence ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies late Friday.
"One serviceman was killed, another 27 crew members went missing," the ministry said, adding that "the remaining 396 members" had been evacuated.
A senior Pentagon official said the Moskva warship was hit by two Ukrainian missiles before it sank in the Black Sea.
The Russian defence ministry made the announcement after authorities first said that all crew members had been evacuated.
"The Russian defence ministry is providing all the necessary support and assistance to the families and friends of the deceased and the missing," the statement said.
It said that "an absolute majority" of contract servicemen wished to continue their service aboard vessels of the Black Sea Fleet.
In recent days, a number of Russian parents called for the truth about their missing children, but the Kremlin had previously refused to reveal any details about the casualties aboard the warship which is able to carry up to 680 sailors.
Several families have said on social media or in statements to independent Russian or foreign press that they cannot find their children who were serving on the Moskva.
One parent, Dmitry Shkrebets, said on social media that when he tried to learn more about the fate of his missing son, the commander of the cruiser and his deputy had gone incommunicado.
Asked to comment on the situation on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said the Kremlin was not at liberty to reveal any details.
Meduza, an independent Russian-language news website, citing a source close to the command of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, said 37 members of the Moskva's crew had died.
Around 100 men were wounded while the precise number of missing is unknown, the publication said.
Some 500 people were on board when the Moskva was hit, Meduza said, citing the source.