The Soviet Superships of Mykolaiv, Ukraine- A Legacy in Steel

If you grew up during the Cold War, you might well have thought that the warships the Soviet Union was churning out were pretty cool! They were sleek, full of giant sensors and dangerous looking weapons, and they had different design categories than the accepted US and Western war fleets. What was a missile-carrying heavy aviation cruiser? Few knew, but it certainly looked like a scarier carrier!

Soviet 1985 Replenishment at Sea by the fleet oiler Berezina of a Kiev class aviation cruiser, a Kresta II class missile cruiser and a Kashin class destroyer. NARA USN 330-CFD-DN-SN-86-00851

These ships almost all came out of a group of shipyards in the Black Sea, in the (then) Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, at Mykolaiv. The shipyards there went by several names over the years, but it makes sense to combine the products of the Marti, 444 shipyards, the Black Sea shipyards and the 61 Kommunara (named for the 61 Communards) shipyards.

Marshal Ustinov (formerly Admiral Flota Lobov), Slava class cruiser completed at Mykolaiv in 1986, during a 2018 intercept by HMS St. Albans (Photo: LPHOT SEELEY/MOD)

The appearance of these ships often led Western analysts to some pretty dire conclusions about advanced Soviet naval capabilities. An early example of this was the “Sverdlov scare” of the 1950s, where analysts overestimated a new class of cruisers. These were in fact some of the last of a breed of old-style gun cruisers, which were throw-backs to Italian interwar designs. We later heard about the carrier-killing Soviet missile cruisers, with their enormous jet-aircraft-sized missiles. The Slava class with their serried ranks of missile tubes, were the last of those designs. To Western defence analysts, the oddest designs may have been the succession of cruiser/carrier hybrids, which combined aviation facilities, a large flight deck, and the potent anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons and sensors of a large cruiser.

We have assembled a list of these large warships, and encourage our readers to delve further by exploring the links to existing satellite views.* Several of the Mykolaiv-built ships continue to serve, in the Russian, Chinese, and Indian navies.

Kusnetsov class carriers – LOA 1001’ / 305 m TDISP 58,000 tons (2 active, 1 in Russia, 1 sold to China by Ukraine-for scrap) Sevice since 1990. Kuznetsov and Liaoning (China) still the largest Soviet / Russian warships. Liaoning was resurrected from the incomplete hulk Varyag, whose construction was stalled. A modern refinement of this design is China’s Type 002 carrier. The “ski jump” at the bows makes this the first Soviet carrier that was able to operate conventional combat jets. Kuznetsov has been undergoing a lengthy refit with many delays.

Admiral Flata Sovetskogo Soyuza Kusnetsov continuing an interminable refit near Murmask, 2019.
PLAN carrier Liaoning 16 Taiwan Straits, 2018 日本防衛省·統合幕僚監部 [CC BY]

Kiev class / Project 1143 Krechyet carriers – LOA 896′ / 273 m TDISP 45,000 tons (4 units, 1 active as converted Indian aircraft carrier, 1 scrapped, 2 preserved in China) service since 1975. This combined cruiser-like armament in the bows with a large flight deck which could operate helicopters and Vertical Takeoff and Landing VTOL Yak-38 “Forger” jets. The example that was refitted for India was updated with a full carrier deck.

Kiev class Baku, in 1989. NARA: US Navy 330-CFD-DN-SC-90-05958

Moskva class / Project 1123 Kondor helicopter cruisers – LOA 620′ / 189 m TDISP 15,300 tons (both units built Mykolaiv) service 1967-1996. These ships excited particular interest as the first Soviet aircraft carriers, and represented a new direction for Soviet naval policy. Their half-cruiser, half-helicopter carrier design looked particularly modern. In practice, they were not particularly successful ships. Similar designs were the French Jean d’Arc, and the Italian Vittorio Veneto, both also 1960s helicopter/cruisers.

The Soviet helicopter cruiser Moskva, from HMS Walkerton. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source:

Slava class / Project 1164 Atlant missile cruisers – LOA 612′ / 186.4 m TDISP 11,500 tons (All 3 units built at Mykolaiv, 1 other unit remains unfinished) Service from 1982. These so-called “carrier killers” were designed to overcome USN carrier group defences and destroy the supercarriers with massive SS-N-12 Sandbox cruise-missiles. Each Slava holds 16 tubes angled forward. Operating as the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, Moskva was sunk 2022/04/14 after being struck by two Ukrainian R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles during the Russian War in Ukraine. The other two Russian Slavas, normally each based with the North Sea and Pacific fleets, remain in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A port beam view of the Soviet guided missile cruiser SLAVA (renamed Moskva during the 1990s) underway [detail of], 1986. USN official
Marshal Ustinov visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia with other units, July, 1993, alongside Admiral Kharlamov destroyer. This bow view shows the potent Sandbox missile tubes and bow AK-130 dual 130mm gun. Credit:
Varyag, formerly Chervona Ukrayina, completed 1989, usually based out of the Pacific Fleet.
ex-Ukrayina at Mykolaiv (old Kommunara shipyard). Credit: ПТУ-3 г. Херсон (PTU-3 g. Kherson) · Kherson, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Kara class / Project 1134B Berkut B missile cruisers – LOA 568′ / 173.2 m TDISP 9,700 tons (all 7 units built Mykolaiv) service 1971-2014. The Karas were an improvement on the earlier Kynda and Kresta classes of missile cruisers. Compared to most of the ships on this page, these good-looking ships are conventional! They are virtually the same size as the USN Ticonderoga class. One of the ships we found a view of, Azov, was the first ship fitted with a Vertical Launch System (VLS), for a trial Surface-to-Air /S300F/SA-N-6 missile. See our post “The Last blockship?” about the Ochakov, the last remaining Kara hulk, which was used as a blockship by the Russian against the Ukrainian Navy’s Southern Base, to devastating effect.

Kara Class cruiser Kerch n.d. Kerch was the last in service, and was promptly scrapped near Sevastopol. NARA: 330-CFD-DN-SC-89-01795
Ochakov, decommissioned 2011 but used as a blockship by the Russians during the 2014 Annexation of Crimea, to block up Lake Donuslav. Now lying abandoned near the Russian-seized Southern Naval Base.

Sverdlov class / Project 68bis cruisers – LOA 689′ / 210 m TDISP 16,600 tons (4 units, including museum ship Mikhail Kutuzov at Novorossiysk) service 1952-2000 (Mikhail Kutuzov was in commission much longer until converted to museum ship). This design was a refinement of the earlier Chapeyev class, and were impressive-looking gun cruisers with four triple 6″ / 152 mm gun turrets. They served very long careers and were converted to a number of roles, such as command cruisers. Others received aviation facilities. Unlike many World War Two-era USN cruisers, they proved unable to carry a modern anti-ship missile system.

A Soviet Sverdlov class light cruiser underway, 1983. NARA USN 330-CFD-DN-ST-84-01596 (PH2 D. Beech)
Sverdlov class cruiser at Vladivostok, undated declassified Hexagon KH-9 imagery (cropped view] from the National Reconnaissance Office, available from an official US report at the NRO website. From other ships present, this appears to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Chapeyev class/ Project 68 cruisers – LOA 659′ / 201 m TDISP 14,100 tons (2 built ca. 1950, after two earlier units had been destroyed while under construction by Nazi Germany) Service 1950-1981. This designed enlarged the Kirov class and updated the armour and the primary guns, to 4 triple 6″ / 152 mm gun turrets that could fire a respectable half-dozen rounds a minute . None were completed by the war’s end.

Cruiser Zheleznjakov (1950). Credit: Svch433, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kirov class / Project 26/26bis cruisers – LOA 628′ / 191.3 m TDISP 9.500 tons (1 original, 1 upgraded, built at Mykolaiv) service 1938-1970. These ships were medium cruisers armed with powerful 7.1 ” / 180 mm guns in three triple turrets. Unfortunately the design had shoe-horned these larger guns in, and they could only fire an abysmal one or two rounds a minute. They were an adapted Italian Navy cruiser design by Ansaldo, and were the first large ships completed in Russia since the 1917 Communist Revolution. These served with distinction during the war.

The Soviet cruiser Voroshilov in Batumi, 1942. Credit: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

* This is not a complete list, and there were classes of battleships in the early 20th C, Shchuka wartime submarines and smaller ships built here. Some of the important destroyers and frigates include the Kashin, Kanin and Skoryy class destroyers, Riga class frigates. Another interesting class of ships were the Malina class depot/repair ships built to service nuclear-powered submarines.

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.