The Ukrainian Navy’s Fighting Ships – The only easy day was Never.

The losses the Ukrainian Navy has sustained as a result of two occupations make it unique amongst 21st Century navies. The great navies of the World, since 1945, have undergone only gradual transition to more modern and capable classes of warship, with the tragic loss of units and crew being an exceptionally rare occurrence. By contrast, the Navy of Ukraine lost its headquarters, two major bases, and 75% of its fleet during the Russian Annexation of Crimea, 2014. In the current 2022 Russian War, it has already lost many of the remaining units. This post will provide a brief summary of the warships of Ukraine, and what happened to them. For a ship-by-ship accounting of the fleet, please see our newly-released pages.

Soviansk P-190, ex-USCGC Cushing, transferred to Ukraine from the US Coast Guard in 2018 and reported to have been destroyed, with no known survivors, on 3 March 2018. Credit Армія Інформ, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In the heady days following Ukraine’s Independence Day, 24 August 1991, the new navy was envisioned as a modern, well-rounded regional force, able to project naval presence in the Black Sea, with a mix of frigates, submarines, and corvettes. It was never intended to compete with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which it had peacefully been created out of. January 1992 negotiations between presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine even agreed to an equitable split of the fleet. The first Ukrainian warship in the modern era was the Petya class light frigate SKR-112, whose crew and senior officer, Captain Mykola Zhybarev, declared their allegiance to the new state on 21 July 1992, before leaving the Russian base at Sevastopol for Odessa, under the real threat of destruction. The transfer of units, assets, and bases was established in a series of international agreements during the mid-1990s. It was a painful and drawn out separation, complicated by Ukraine granting the Russian fleet a lease to continue using facilities on the Crimean Peninsula, including major port facilities at Sevastopol. The terms for the 20-year lease would have expired in 2017.

A line drawing of SKR-112, the first Ukrainian Navy ship in 1992, which left service the next year. Credit: Sergienkod / CC BY-SA (

Like many of the former Soviet Republics, Warsaw Pact countries, and those that had been in the orbit of the USSR, Ukraine inherited a mixed bag of legacy Soviet warships and vessels from the old KGB Border Guard; some units were relatively modern or in decent material condition, but quite a few were worn-out.* Of the four guided missile frigates, two older Krivak II class were beyond all economical repair, and were promptly decommissioned. Of four submarines, only one elderly Foxtrot class submarine had any prospect of joining the fleet. A variety of missile corvettes of the Grisha and Tarantul classes were transferred along with Pauk class patrol boats.

Zaporizhya UA-01 Foxtrot class submarine, ca. 2012. Credit: Credit: Pavlo1 at Ukrainian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some remarkable ships were building at the 61 Communards shipyard at Mykolaiv at the very twilight of the Soviet empire: A Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier, a large depot ship for nuclear submarines, and a Slava-class cruiser.** The transfer of ownership of the gargantuan facility left Ukrainian governments struggling with a way forward for disposing of these white elephants. For a time, work resumed on the massive 610-foot long, 11,500 ton cruiser, which was to have been named Ukrayina. It received a ship’s badge and a crew was even assigned to prepare for entry into service.

Ukrayina’s authorized ship badge for service in the Ukrainian Navy. Credit: Military Symbols and Heraldry Section, General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Other project on the ways at Mykolaiv included what became the flagship, a Krivak III class frigate originally intended to join the other similar ships in KGB/FSB border guard service. A Grisha V class corvette, Ternopil, was eventually completed in 2003.

Hetman Sahaidachny, flagship of the Ukrainian Navy until recently scuttled at Mykolaiv, late February 2022. Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The years after 2000 have been difficult ones for the Ukrainian Navy, as major procurement of new surface units to replace the aging Soviet ships has mostly not advanced, as the navy has been under-funded and had trouble retaining personnel. The relationship with Russia, and most immediately, the Black Sea Fleet, also deteriorated. Vladimir Putin’s regime, during the early 2000s, began stoking the flames of separatism in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and worse still, questioning the very existence of Ukraine as a separate entity. Because of the lease of the port facilities, there was little separation from Russian forces as Putin’s rhetoric ratchetted up.

The February 2014 Annexation of Crimea by Russia was almost the end of an independent Ukrainian Navy. All ships in Sevastopol, Ukraine’s main naval base, were immobilized, blockaded, and seized. The headquarters and the main docking area for the navy was captured, and other ships in Strilets’ka Bay were cut off, blockaded, and eventually also seized. Some senior officers defected to the Russian fleet, and the loyalties of the rank-and-file was also divided. Fortuitously, the flagship, Hetman Sahaidachny, was participating in international anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia, and returned to Odessa, which became the new headquarters.

Seized units at Sevastopol, still interned Aug. 2020, including the Ropucha landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, the submarine Zaporizhya, and the intelligence ship Slavutich.

The Southern Naval Base on Lake Donuzlav was also bottled up, when the Russians sank a retired cruiser, Ochakov (originally built at Mykolaiv), and other small vessels across the narrow entrance to the lake. Despite efforts to escape, this entire force was seized by Crimean separatists.

Southern Naval Base, May 2014, interned Ukrainian ships. From left to right, these are the Grisha class ships Vinnytsia U-206 (returned and seized again 2022), Ternopil U-209 (not returned), Pauk class Khmelnytskyi U-208 (not returned), Minesweepers Chernigov U-311 and Melitopol U-330 (both not returned), Horlivka A-753 Freighter, another Pauk class, a Pozharny class fire boat.

Today, only the rusted hulk of the Ochakov remains near the former base, awaiting scrapping. The loss of both landing ships, the minesweepers, almost the entire force of Grisha corvettes, and the entire facility was a severe blow. Some ships were returned later, but these have mostly consisted of older ships.

The retired Kara class cruiser Ochakov on its side acting as a block ship across the Kerch Straits, early 2014., CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Russians came up with excuses not to return the updated Grisha corvettes, any of the minesweepers, the larger, more modern Ropucha-class landing ship, the single submarine, the intelligence vessels. Some of these remain interned. The landing ship Konstantin Olshansky U-402 appears to have been repainted to Russian Navy colours and given a new pennant number, and may have been used to ferry troops and vehicles to Syria.

Tragically, for the Ukrainian Navy, the Annexation has proven to be only the first costly maneuvers in a sustained Russian effort. During the 2022 Russian invasion/occupation, Russian forces have again seized many of the ships they had already returned to Ukraine after the last seizure. If reports of the aftermath of the Battle of Berdiansk February 28th, 2022, are accurate, many naval units there were captured.

Yuri Olefirenko U-401, a Polnocny-C class landing ship, 2016. This, the last remaining landing ship, was reportedly captured after the Battle of Berdiansk. Credit: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Consider for a moment the bizarre careers of several ships, including the Grisha class Vinnytsia U-206, the landing ship Yuri Olefirenko U-401, and the small minesweeper Henichesk. These vessels all started as units of the navy or border guard of the Soviet Union, before mid-1990s transfer to the Ukrainian Navy. They were then seized during February 2014 in Sevastopol or the Southern Naval Base, before being released to Ukraine, where they served a further 8 years before again being captured by Russian forces in the present War. We hope that Ukraine emerges from this terrible war intact, and that, on the naval side, it is able to ditch the Russian relics and finally receives the kind of agile, light, hard-hitting, missile-equipped forces it needs to protect its sovereignty from the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We also hope that the fleet is able to participate in multi-lateral exercises and operations outside of the Black Sea, bringing the Ukrainian navy in to close interoperability with international allies.

The next Ukrainian Navy? The Turkish Navy’s TCG Burgazada F-513, is an Ada Class Corvette. The Ukrainian Government signed a deal with Turkey to deliver two of these powerful, modern ships in 2023. Current experience indicates Ukraine needs corvettes and lighter ships that can carry a potent armament of anti-ship missiles. In a future conflict, these could help keep Ukraine’s territorial waters a contested space, against the powerful surface combatants and landing ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Louis Staats, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

*For navies that started out with similar fleets, see Poland, Romania, Vietnam. The most complete list of these types is found under Russia.

**The Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier wound up serving in China, which we explored elsewhere. The other two ships remain uncompleted at Mykolaiv, with the Slava class cruiser having been intended to join the Ukrainian Navy until the idea was shelved in the late 1990s. Some of the later ideas were to complete it for the Russians, to join the other units of the class, or modify it to suit Brazilian needs.

No Longer Bountiful – Part 4 – Bounty’s Sister?

This post will briefly compare the Columbia, a Disneyland sailing ship attraction, with the original HMAV Bounty. Previous posts explored the history of the original HMAV Bounty of 1787, the first replica Bounty , and the 1979 replica.

HMAV Bounty (1979 replica) on the left, and Sailing ship Columbia (1958), Disneyland, at right. Both are similar recreations starting from the same basic 1787 Admiralty plans. Bounty credit: OlyScientist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons Columbia credit: Patrick Pelletier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bounty had a sistership!? Well, yes and no. One of the most accurate Bounty replicas is not Bounty at all! One of the benefits of Facebook groups about very specific topics is you learn some pretty interesting things. When I shared Part II of these Bounty posts, I learned from a former park employee at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) that one of the ship attractions, the Columbia sailing ship, was actually based closely on the original Royal Navy dockyard draft of the Bounty.* Park animators receive a detailed booklet about the attractions that lays out this interesting story. Columbia is featured in our sailing warships and replicas page, but we didn’t know how closely these vessels were connected.

During the mid-1950s, Walt Disney asked his team of theme park designers for a new attraction that would be a sailing companion to Mark Twain, the recently completed riverboat, on the Rivers of America lagoon rides. Joe Fowler, his Director of Construction and Maintenance, suggested a recreation of the Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the Globe. At the time, it was the second major recreation of a sailing ship in the park, joining the stationary “Chicken of the Sea”/Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Raymond Wallace designed and supervised the building of the replica.**

Mark Twain (1955), Columbia’s running mate on the Rivers of America lagoon rides, Disneyland, ca. 2005. Credit: bobyfume, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The details about the original Columbia Rediviva are a bit vague, but she may have been built in the early 1770s in Massachusetts, and was extensively rebuilt in 1787, right about the time the British Admiralty were rebuilding Bounty for her long journey to Tahiti. At 83.5’ long on deck and about 210 tons burthen, Columbia Rediviva was slightly smaller than the original HMAV Bounty. A model at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, Oregon, shows a vessel that, all things considered, shares many features with Bounty and the 1770s-era converted Whitby collier HM Bark Endeavour, Captain James Cook’s vessel from his first voyage of discovery. The deck layout is similar to the Endeavour, with a small break at the mainmast to make a slightly raised quarterdeck, where the cannon are sited. Her armament seems to have been heavier , with gunports piercing the hull sides along the quarterdeck. In contrast, Bounty had a flush (or continuous) weather deck.

“Columbia in a Squall” by George Davidson, an artist who served on board the Columbia Rediviva, and so would have produced a good likeness of the ship. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The ship, which was not a commissioned US warship, became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the Globe. On a commercial venture that also involved exploration, she was commanded by John Kendrick with Robert Gray as his second. Columbia left Boston with a hold full of trade goods in October 1787. For some of the way she was accompanied by the Lady Washington brig. Like Bounty’s commander, Lt. William Bligh, at least one of Columbia’s crew, Simeon Woodruff, had also served aboard HMS Resolution on Captain Cook’s third voyage of exploration to the Pacific. Columbia rounded Cape Horn on her passage to the Pacific, and was extensively damaged during March 1788. A month later, Captain Bligh would try the same passage in HMAV Bounty, and encounter even worse conditions. Bligh had to opt for the longer eastward passage around the Cape of Good Hope. One important legacy of the 1790-1792 journey is that large areas of the Pacific Northwest of North America are named after her – notably the Columbia River and the region which became the Canadian province of British Columbia. Columbia Rediviva was eventually dismantled in 1806.

Lady Washington, a replica of the ship that accompanied Columbia on the epic journey. Photographed at Morro Bay harbor. Credit: ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

No accurate plans of this historic ship survive, and “Columbia in a Squall” is the only contemporary illustration of the ship. The Disney team located the plans of a similar pint-sized three-masted ship. They settled on adapting the original British Admiralty plans of the HMAV Bounty to represent Columbia Rediviva. Sections of the ship were built at the Los Angeles division of Todd Shipyards, which had also built the Mark Twain riverboat for Disney. In contrast to the Mark Twain, Columbia was a full-sized tall ship with none of the visual shortcuts that help shrink park attractions into usually tight spaces. She dwarfed her surroundings, and was actually several feet larger than Columbia Rediviva! Her length on deck is about 90 feet and the breadth across the deck is 24 feet, matching precisely the original Admiralty plans for HMAV Bounty. In terms of displacement and general dimensions she is the most accurate of all Bounty replicas! Like the New Zealand Bounty replica, she is based on a steel frame and everything under the waterline is also steel. Wood was laid over the steel frames above the waterline. The similarity ended there, as Columbia was given a very flat, barge-like bottom suitable to the shallow lagoon and running along the track. The water of the lagoon is coloured a murky green to camouflage the shallow lagoon, the track, and the shallow hulls. Columbia has two screws, which were powered originally by diesel engines. A Natural gas engine now propels the ship sedately around the lagoon. The Columbia began operations June 14th, 1958–two years before work began on the (much larger) 1960 Bounty replica–and she’s been giving visitors 12-minute rides around the Rivers of America lagoon ever since. For the night displays of Fantasmic!, Columbia is quickly converted to play the role of the Black Pearl, the pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Composite view of Columbia at top and Bounty replica (1978) at bottom, from views used under each entry in our database. A 90′ line in yellow, Bounty’s length of deck, has been indicated.

The visible differences between this replica and the original Bounty are fairly minor. The most obvious distinguishing feature is that Columbia lacks the ornamental quarter badges (small bay window-like projections) on either side near the stern. Columbia’s bows also have simpler decorative head rails. Just aft of the projecting catheads that secure the anchors, the ship’s rails on either side are also more built up than Bounty’s. This may be inspired by something about the Columbia Rediviva, and certainly is safer for the hundreds of visitors that daily tread her decks. In contrast to Bounty’s figurehead “Bethia,” a demure lady fully-clothed in riding wear, Columbia, the female personification of the Americas, is depicted as a glowing, goddess-like figure. The Lady Columbia looks downright Bountiful!

Columbia from the bows, 2009. Credit: SolarSurfer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Columbia replica is armed with a few swivel cannon along the rails and four small cannons, which are very similar to Bounty’s four-pounders. Two of these cannons are installed further aft near the taffrail, another difference with Bounty. Inboard, Columbia has her capstan fitted way forwards, near the windlass and the gleaming brass ship’s bell.

Sailing ship Columbia attraction at Disneyland, ca. 1959, with a very similar 5 light stern to Bounty. Credit: Orange County Archives, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Standing on the deck of this ship in the artificial lagoon in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, park goers are unwittingly getting an accurate feel of the setting for the events of the 1789 Mutiny near Tahiti. Though we ardently hope that the Bounty replica languishing in Thailand will be rebuilt, and that further replicas will slide down the ways, it is nice to know that the Columbia, a very good likeness of the Bounty, has been delighting Disneyland visitors for almost 65 years!

* Messaging with R. Villanueva, Museumships facebook group, 2022/02/05.

**Ray Wallace founded a company that has continued to build many theme park maritime attractions ever since.

Additional Information and great photos of the Columbia can be found in the Inventing Disney blog post ” Walt Disney’s Disneyland Mistake“.