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Ukraine has pushed Russian forces to abandon the Snake Island, a small but strategic outpost in the Black Sea, the Operation Command South said on June 30.
According to the Ukrainian military, "the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison in two speedboats and probably left the island."
Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed its forces had left the island. However, it called the withdrawal "a gesture of goodwill" rather than a defeat, adding that the troops "had completed their mission" and were withdrawing to demonstrate Russia's willingness to allow for grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports.
Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, slammed the statement as "complete fake," adding that Russian troops were pushed out of the outpost as a result of a "remarkable" operation conducted by Ukraine's Armed Forces.
"Russia continues to provoke a food crisis, and lie. They are still blocking our ports and destroying grain," he wrote on Telegram. Yermak mentioned the most recent attack on the town of Zelenodolsk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, that on June 30 destroyed a warehouse containing 40 tonnes of grain.
Why Snake Island is so important
Snake Island became an infamous symbol of resistance for Ukrainians in the early stage of the war when Russia's Black Sea warship Moskva arrived at its shores to request the surrender of its guardpost. In response, a border guard sent a message: "Russian warship, go f*ck yourself." The Russian ship then bombed the island.
The phrase went viral and became widely adopted among Ukrainian soldiers and civilians alike. The incident was later imprinted on a Ukrainian postage stamp. A day after the stamp was issued, Ukraine sank the Moskva ship using two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles.
Snake Island defenders were taken prisoners following the Russian seizure of the island, with most defenders later part of subsequent prisoner exchanges.
Located around 35 kilometers off the shore of Ukraine's southwest Odesa Oblast and being less than a quarter of a square kilometer in size, the Snake Island remains crucial for control of the western Black Sea, according to Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Ministry's Intelligence Directorate.
Since April, Ukrainian forces have been fighting to regain control over the island by bombarding Russian troops on the island with missiles and now artillery.
"For Russia, as well as for Ukraine, Snake Island is a strategically important point as it gives control over absolutely all trade routes to Ukraine. In fact, it gives control over the entire surface and to some extent the air situation in southern Ukraine," he said.
Budanov added that the outpost was also crucial for Russia as it was the only region where it could try to land troops from the Russian-occupied Transnistria region of Moldova.
Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the General Staff's main operational directorate, said regaining control over the island would allow Ukraine to resist the Russian blockade of Odesa.