Ukraine pushes Russian forces from strategic Snake Island

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA</span>
Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA

Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea island off the southern coast near the city of Odesa.

Russia portrayed the pullout from Snake Island off the port city of Odesa as a “goodwill gesture”. Ukraine’s military said the Russians fled the island in two speedboats after a barrage of Ukrainian artillery and missile strikes.

Ukraine’s win will weaken any plans Russia may have for a future land attack on that stretch of coastline, Ukrainian officials say.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, said Ukrainian-made Bohdana howitzers had played an important role in routing Russian forces from Snake Island, and he thanked foreign partners for their support.

“KABOOM!” Tweeted Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration. “No more Russian troops on Snake Island.”

Russia’s ministry of defence stated that it had completed its assigned tasks and was tactically withdrawing to allow for grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.“In order to organise humanitarian grain corridors as part of the implementation of joint agreements reached with the participation of the UN, the Russian Federation decided to leave its positions on Zmiinyi Island,” the defence ministry said.

Yermak described Russia’s claim of goodwill as a lie.

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Ukrainian forces also reported a small win in the country’s southern Kherson region, which has been occupied by Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion. Ukrainian forces now control the Kherson village of Potomkine, according to Ukraine’s military.

But Russia continues to carry out attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, having secured almost all of Luhansk region this month, to fulfil its goal of securing the entire Donbas region. Six people were injured in an attack on the city of Slovyansk, according to its mayor, Vadym Lyakh.

Ukraine said it had forced Russian troops to flee overnight on two speed boats. The statement, by Ukraine’s southern command, said explosions could still be heard and the island was covered in smoke, appearing to indicate a battles may be continuing.

Snake Island was made famous when Russia first captured it in February. A Ukrainian soldier posted on the island told an attacking Russian warship to “go fuck yourself”, which has become one of the most popular Ukrainian slogans of resistance since the invasion.

The Ukrainian postal service issued a stamp showing a Ukrainian soldier giving the finger to the Russian cruiser Moskva.

The blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports by Russia has caused grain prices to soar, threatening famine in several countries.

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, said in May that the island was critically important to both Russia and Ukraine. He said whoever controlled Snake Island controlled the land – and to some extent air – security of southern Ukraine. He said at the time that Ukraine believed Russia could use the island to launch an invasion of western Ukraine and send troops into Moldova’s Transnistria region, where Moscow already has troops stationed.

An adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, Vadym Denysenko, told Ukrainian TV that Snake Island’s recapture was a “huge victory” for Ukraine.

He said that after Ukraine destroyed Russia’s Mosvka warship, the Russians wanted to turn Snake Island into a anti-aircraft defence hub. He said they planned to then use the island to control the entire western part of the Black Sea and launch a land invasion, he said.

“Now the Russians cannot do anything in this area of the sea, except, unfortunately, shell Ukrainian cities with missiles from their ships,” Denysenko said.

Ukraine’s armed forces have reported carrying out several attacks on the island since it was captured. On 2 May the army released a video of strikes carried on two Russian patrol boats near Snake Island.

Attacks increased on the island in the last two weeks. A spokesperson for Ukrainian’s southern command said on Monday that there was “ongoing operation” to liberate the island but it was likely to go on for a long time. The southern command also released a video showing 10 strikes on the island, one of which allegedly shows the destruction of a Russian Pantsir-S1 air defence system.

The previous week, on 17 June, Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian tugboat that they said was carrying ammunition, weapons and personnel to the island. On 20 June Ukraine targeted gas platforms near Snake Island that Russia had reportedly been using. The explosion was so loud that people in Vylkove, the nearest Ukrainian land settlement, could hear it, according to residents interviewed by the Economist.

On 22 June Ukraine published a satellite image of the island. It said black dots represented places where it had successfully attacked Russian positions.

Russia appears to have responded by firing missiles into the Odesa region. Ukraine said six people were injured in the attack, including a child.

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