On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island off the Ukrainian coast in the Black Sea as a “goodwill gesture”.
The ministry said the move showed that Russia was not hampering UN efforts to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products out of Ukraine.
The small outcrop, captured by Russia on the first day of its invasion, achieved world fame when Ukrainian border guards stationed there initially resisted a Russian warship’s request for their surrender.
Ukraine denied the withdrawal was a goodwill gesture, saying that Russian forces had been expelled.
Boris Johnson, at the NATO conference in Madrid, praised the “amazing ability of the Ukrainians to respond, to overcome adversity, and to fend off the Russians.”
The chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Andrei Yermak, said on Twitter: “Kaboom! There are no more Russian troops on Snake Island. Our armed forces have done a great job. “
The Southern Military Command of Ukraine wrote on Facebook that after a successful operation involving missile and artillery units, Russian forces evacuated from Snake Island in two boats.
Snake Island became infamous after a group of Ukrainian soldiers defending the island told a Russian warship, “Go on your own.” Russian soldiers on board told the guards to lay down their weapons or “bomb them,” according to audio clips of the incident captured by local media and posted online.
Two Ukrainian guards can be heard engaging in short dialogue, saying, “Should I tell them to go for themselves?” – Before replying with: “Russian warship, set out on your own.”
An earlier statement by Ukraine indicated that they were then killed in air and naval strikes – which Russia denied, saying the forces had surrendered. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said the audio was authentic. Ukrainian soldier Roman Hribov received a medal in March for his services.
Initial reports stated that 13 border guards on the island had died after refusing to surrender, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that each guard would posthumously be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. But a few days later, Ukrainian border guards said the soldiers were still alive and captured by Russia.
Mr. Hrybov is now at home in Cherkasy, and has shared a video showing Hrybov receiving a medal for his actions from local authorities.
Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander Valery Zaluzhny said the Ukrainian-made Bohdana cannons played an important role in expelling Russian forces and thanked foreign partners for their support.
Analysts in Kyiv said the loss of the island gives Ukraine more freedom to use military drones and operate in the western Black Sea, but is unlikely to help alleviate the embattled Ukrainian grain crisis.
Zhdanov said it was also unlikely that Ukraine itself would take up positions and deploy anti-ship weapons on the island to try to bolster its coastal defenses because the island remained in the crosshairs of Russian forces.
Matthew Poleg, an analyst at Chatham House, said Russia’s withdrawal may be part of a plan to allow the Kremlin to bolster its military forces elsewhere in the Black Sea.
“We shouldn’t be fooled by it…it may be a short-term relief but there will be long-term pain.”