Ukraine hoisted its blue-and-yellow flag on Snake Island in the Black Sea on Thursday in a show of defiance against Russia, but Moscow quickly responded with an attack that destroyed part of the Ukrainian outpost there.
Control of the island, located about 140 kilometers south of the Ukrainian port of Odesa, has been disputed since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine more than four months ago.
In the early days of the war, Russia shelled the island after Ukrainian soldiers responded with a vulgarity when crewmen on the Moskva warship demanded they surrender. Ukraine issued a commemorative stamp celebrating the soldiers’ defiance.
Russia had controlled the island for much of the war, until Ukraine captured it in the last week, although Russia contended it had withdrawn in a gesture of goodwill.
Ukrainian soldiers raised their national flag on a patch of ground next to the remains of a flattened building on Thursday.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, suggested the moment was one that would be repeated across Ukraine in the coming months.
"The flag of Ukraine is on Snake Island,” he wrote on Telegram. “Ahead of us are many more such videos from Ukrainian cities that are currently under temporary occupation.”
But Odesa regional administration spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said Russia's missile strike on the island's new residents had caused significant damage to its dock.
Meanwhile, as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, Putin accused Western countries supporting Ukraine of prolonging the war by continuing to send armaments to Kyiv.
Speaking to leaders of the Russian parliament, Putin said, "Everybody should know that, largely speaking, we haven't even yet started anything in earnest" in attacking Ukraine.
He declared that Russia remains ready to sit down for talks to end the fighting, adding that "those who refuse to do so should know that the longer it lasts, the more difficult it will be for them to make a deal with us."
"We are hearing that they want to defeat us on the battlefield," Putin said. "Let them try."
The Russian president contended that Western economic sanctions against Moscow had failed to achieve their goal of "sowing division and strife in our society and demoralizing our people."
"The course of history is unstoppable and attempts by the collective West to enforce its version of the global order are doomed to fail," Putin said.
Zelenskyy hails Western weaponry
In his nightly address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the artillery his forces have received from Western allies has “started working powerfully,” helping to disrupt Russia’s military.
“Its accuracy is exactly as needed,” Zelenskyy said. “Our defenders inflict very noticeable strikes on depots and other spots that are important for the logistics of the occupiers and this significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian army.”
He also pledged to regain control of all of Ukraine’s territory, as Russia pushes to capture the Donbas region in the eastern part of the country.
“We are fighting for our entire south, for the entire Ukrainian Donbas — the most brutal confrontation is currently there, near Slovyansk and Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said. “We are fighting for the Kharkiv region. The occupiers should not think that their time on this land is long-lasting and that the superiority of their artillery is eternal.”
Civilians urged to evacuate
Ukrainian officials earlier Wednesday told the remaining residents in Donetsk province, part of the Donbas, to flee to safer areas as Russia launched new attacks there.
“Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain for civilians,” Donetsk regional military administrator Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian media.
“I call on everyone to evacuate,” he said. “Evacuation saves lives.”
Russia already controls more than half of Donetsk province after saying that in recent days it had completely taken over neighboring Luhansk province.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai rejected the claim Wednesday, saying there was still heavy fighting happening around the city of Lysychansk. Ukrainian forces withdrew from the city on Sunday in what Ukrainian officials described as a tactical move to save troops for future fighting.
Haidai accused Russian forces of “burning down and destroying everything on their way.”
Up to 15,000 residents remain in Lysychansk, and about 8,000 in the nearby city of Sievierodonetsk, which Russian and separatist fighters seized last month, Haidai said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said one of the main goals of his invasion of Ukraine, which began in late February, is full control of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region.
Some Ukrainians are resisting leaving Donetsk, but Kyrylenko said only about 340,000 people remain out of a prewar population of nearly 1.7 million.
Only about 23,000 people are still in Sloviansk, one of the newest targets of Russian shelling, out of a prewar population of 107,000, Mayor Vadim Lyakh said. Heightened Russian attacks have increased the pace of evacuations.
Ukrainian Railways said it would add additional trains to help with evacuations.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.