KYIV, Ukraine — Russia says it has evacuated its soldiers stationed on Snake Island, the Ukrainian outpost in the Black Sea that had been invaded by Russia in late February.
Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, is a strategic outpost off the southern coast of Ukraine that has taken on heroic proportions in Ukraine’s fight against Russia after Ukrainian soldiers there refused to surrender the island in a February battle.
Ukraine’s southern forces have been striking the island to take out Russian outposts in recent days. Russia’s defense ministry said it left the island as a “goodwill gesture.”
The Russian forces left after Ukraine said it bombarded the island overnight with artillery.
“Unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missile and air strikes, the occupiers left Snake Island,” Valery Zaluzhny, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, said in a video speech on Facebook.
The Russian retreat from Snake Island is a strategic win for Ukraine and a boost for morale as resources run low in the east, where Russia is trying to take more territory.
Russia has managed to blockade key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, preventing critical foodstuffs including grain to be exported. Ukrainian control over Snake Island gives Ukraine’s armed forces a chance to disrupt Russian shipping lanes in the Black Sea and weaken Russia’s hold on southern Ukrainian land.
The island was originally occupied by Russia in late February in a battle that became internationally known when Ukrainian soldiers refused to surrender despite calls from the Russian warship, the Moskva, to put down their arms.
A soundbite in which they told the Moskva, “Russian warship, go f— yourself!” went viral after being shared publicly by a Ukrainian government spokesperson. The Moskva was sunk by Ukrainian forces in April.
The Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island were briefly detained under Russian occupation but were freed in March as part of a prisoner swap.