The Fate of Ukraine’s Flagship Frigate

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February the fate of the Hetman Sahaidachny (F130) has remained unclear. Open source intelligence and satellite image analysis appears to confirm that the frigate was docked at the port city of Mykolaiv when the war began. As Russia’s invasion gathered pace the 30 year old Krivak III class frigate was due to begin a period of refit and it appears that she never left port.

Hetman Sahaydachniy c.2016 (Ministry of Defense of Ukraine/Pavlo Parfenuk)

On 3 March a photograph of the vessel half submerged at her moorings was shared on social media. The stricken frigate appears to have listed heavily to port as she has foundered at the wharf.

The Hetman Sahaidachny was the flagship of Ukraine’s small navy which before the start of the conflict included 13 patrol boats of various sizes – the fate and operational whereabouts of the rest of the fleet remains unclear.

On the 13 January it was announced byUkroboronprom (Ukraine’s state-owned defense conglomerate) that the Hetman Sahaidachny would undergo “repair and modernization works” under the direction of Ukraine’s Research and Design Center for Shipbuilding with half a dozen companies including the Ukroboronprom-owned Mykolayiv Shipyard.

From examination of satellite imagery from the past 10 days and through geolocation Overt Defense believes that the frigate is at the JV NIBULON LLC Trans-shipment terminal in Mykolaiv rather than Mykolayiv Shipyard.

A map showing the location of Mykolaiv north west of the captured city of Kherson and north east of Odessa (via Google Maps)

While the Sentinel-2 satellite imagery is difficult to make out when cross checked against commercial satellite imagery available it appears to confirm the Hetman Sahaidachny’s position. Below is a Sentinel-2 image from 23 February, the day before the war began, showing the outline of the frigate docked.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery from 23 February showing the frigate moored alongside the dock (Sentinel-2)

Several days later, in the next available piece of satellite imagery the vessel can be seen now at an angle to the wharf – in a position very similar to that seen in the photograph shared on social media.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery from 28 February showing the Hetman Sahaidachny now at an angle to the wharf (Sentinel-2)

In an effort to verify the location below is a clearer commercial satellite image of the area in which the Hetman Sahaidachny appears to be docked, taken earlier this year, the low-resolution satellite image from 28 February and the photo of the stricken vessel for comparison. The coloured boxes on both highlight features which are believed to be shared. A number of cranes and three vessels moored behind the semi-sunken vessel appear to help confirm the location.

The only mention of the sinking of the vessel appeared in Russia news outlet Pravda on 27 February. Pravda reported that “according to reports in Ukrainian media, the warship was exploded in order to prevent its capture.” From the imagery available it appears that the vessel was scuttled rather than ‘exploded’ in order prevent the vessel falling into Russian hands. With only a 100mm main gun as its main offensive weapon the frigate would have been at a grave disadvantage against the Russian Black Sea fleet operating in the area. It is unclear when this took place with the earliest available Sentinel-2 imagery showing the vessel taken on the 28 February, 4 days into the conflict.

Update 4 March, 2022:

OSINT analyst Orion_int has been able to examine some higher resolution imagery of the area that Overt Defense believed the Hetman Sahaidachny to be located. The imagery from the 28 February clearly shows the vessel drifted away from the dock side, though not listing as heavily as she appears in the photograph of her.

We can now say with relative certainty that the Hetman Sahaidachny is resting, scuttled, in a dock at Mykolaiv.

The Hetman Sahaidachny, scuttled, in a dock at Mykolaiv (Orion_int/OVD)

On 4 March, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov confirmed the scuttling of the frigate in an update posted on his facebook page at around 9AM local time. Reznikov said:

“The commander of the flagship of the Ukrainian Navy followed the order to flood the ship so that the Hetman Sahaidachny frigate, which was under repair, would not fall into the hands of the enemy. It is hard to imagine a more difficult decision for a courageous soldier and crew.”

Follow our update feed for the latest on the conflict in Ukraine.