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Ukraine battles Russia in Black Sea over strategic Snake Island

FILE PHOTO: Satellite view shows smoke rising over Snake Island, Ukraine amid Russia's attack on the country, May 8, 2022 in this handout image. Planet Labs PBC/Handout via REUTERS

A remote island off Ukraine occupied by Russia on the first day of its invasion has, as Kyiv steps up efforts to retake it, become the focal point of what some defence officials believe may become a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast.

Both countries have reported renewed fighting around Snake Island, which achieved worldwide fame in the conflict's first hours when Ukrainian border guards stationed there rejected a Russian warship's demand for their surrender.

"Russian warship, go fuck yourself," one soldier was recorded as saying.

FILE PHOTO: A view shows fire on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, Ukraine, in this screengrab taken from a drone video obtained by Reuters on May 8, 2022. Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS

In a Wednesday update on the war, Britain's defence ministry said fighting continued there, with Russia "repeatedly trying to reinforce its exposed garrison."

The fightback by Ukraine for the island, located near its sea border with Romania and covering just 0.17 square kilometres (0.06 square miles), could decide if Russia is able to establish a defensive base there and thereby exercise dominance over the north-western Black Sea, the ministry said.

Border guard Roman Hrybov's declaration of defiance to the Russian cruiser Moskva became symbolic across the world of Ukraine's resistance to the invasion that Russia calls a "special military operation".

FILE PHOTO: A view shows a helicopter hovering over Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, Ukraine, in this screengrab taken from a drone video obtained by Reuters on May 8, 2022. Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS

It was reproduced on posters, T-shirts and stamps throughout the country.

Initially reported dead, Hrybov and his fellow guards were later freed in a prisoner exchange. He was decorated for bravery on his release while the Moskva subsequently sank.

With the resumption of hostilities near Snake Island, Russia and Ukraine have made competing claims about the situation there.

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Ukrainian UAV Bayraktar hitting Russian landing craft vessel with missiles, at Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, Ukraine, in this still image from a handout video released by Press service of Ukrainian Ground Forces on May 7, 2022. Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS

In a May 9 online interview, Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksy Arestovych the island was a liability for Russia, calling it a "new Chornobaivka", referring to an airbase near the Russian-occupied city of Kherson where Ukrainian forces say they have repeatedly destroyed Russian equipment.

The Ukrainian military has released footage, which Reuters has independently verified, of a drone strike on a helicopter landing troops on the island.

But in a May 7 briefing, Russia's defence ministry spokesman major general Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces had destroyed Ukrainian helicopters, planes and drones, averting an attempt to retake it.

A May 10 Facebook post by the municipal head of Orakhiv, a village in Ukraine's Vinnytsia region, said a 34-year old soldier from the village, Vasyl Ilchuk, was killed while performing "an extremely difficult mission" in the Snake Island area.

Arestovych attributed the fighting for the island to tactical blunders by Russia, rather than to a wider play for control of the Black Sea.

"It’s a major advantage for us," he said. "...I support the Russian army holding Snake Island. And that we hit them and hit them over and over."

(Reporting by Reuters; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Dive Deeper:
Russia says it repelled Ukrainian attempts to reclaim Snake Island
Russia's defence ministry on Tuesday said it had repelled Ukrainian efforts to reclaim Snake Island in the Black Sea and…
UK says fight continues between Russian, Ukrainian forces at Snake Island
Fighting between Russia and Ukrainian forces has continued on Zmiinyi Island, also known as Snake Island, with Russia repeatedly trying…
Ukraine ‘destroys Putin parade boat’ with laser-guided bomb off Snake Island
Boat has been used for speeches by Russian president and in military exercises
VIDEO: Desert Island Hits: Ukrainian Fighter Jets Rain Bombs Down On Snake Island
The daring raid took place on Snake Island belonging to Ukraine in the Black Sea near the Danube Delta.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine reaching stalemate, says US official
Pentagon intelligence chief suggests neither side winning despite claim by Kyiv that its forces are pushing Russian troops back
Moscow warns Finland over NATO bid as Ukraine says Russian ship damaged
Moscow warned Finland on Thursday it would face consequences as it seeks to apply for NATO membership "without delay" and…
Get all your news in one place