Russia’s defense ministry said Thursday it had retreated from Ukraine’s Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since Moscow’s invasion four months ago.
Russia had used the Black Sea island near the port city of Odesa as a staging ground after seizing it in the early stages of the war, launching attacks on Ukraine from it and monitoring shipments from Ukrainian ports.
But Ukraine confirmed Russian forces had pulled out and said it came after Ukrainian forces hit the island with missile and artillery strikes overnight, leaving the remaining Russian forces to escape in two speedboats.
The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed the withdrawal of Russian forces from the island. “No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job,” Yermak said in a Twitter post.
One of the first chapters of the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion played out on Snake Island when a Russian flagship, the Moskva, approached and demanded that Ukrainian troops surrender. Their response, “Russian warship, go f— yourself,” led to an artillery attack from the ship and Ukrainian troops were forced to surrender the island.
Later, Ukraine sank the Moskva with a missile strike, and Kyiv used the warship and the Snake Island slogan as a motif for a stamp it issued in the middle of the war.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed it had left the small island “as a symbol of goodwill” after completing its mission there. It said the departure demonstrated that Russia does not interfere with the export of Ukrainian grain, although global monitors say otherwise. Developing nations, especially in the Middle East, depend on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat.
A regional Ukrainian official said a cargo ship filled with 7,000 tons of grain left the port of Russian-occupied Berdyansk for the first time in months on Thursday. The official said it was government-owned grain and that the ship is sailing toward “friendly countries.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a foreign trip, told reporters late Wednesday that “nothing has changed” in his war plans, emphasizing the ultimate goal remains what he characterized as the “liberation” of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the protection of its mostly Russian-speaking people and “the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself.”
At the NATO meeting in Madrid, Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, proclaimed their continued military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Britain on Thursday announced another $1 billion in aid, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office saying the money would go toward air defense systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and vital equipment for Ukrainian troops.
“It represents the first step in enabling Ukraine to go beyond their valiant defense against the illegal Russian invasion to mounting offensive operations against Russian ground forces in order to restore Ukrainian sovereignty,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
Zelenskyy said he is grateful for the security assistance, calling Britain a “true friend and strategic partner.”
“We appreciate the consistent, leadership support for (Ukraine) in countering Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy tweeted.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.