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Russia abandons strategic Snake Island, the early symbol of Ukrainian defiance

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Food crisis worsening by Russian blockade
Food crisis worsening by Russian blockade 02:36

Russian troops have left their positions on a captured Ukrainian island, defense officials said Thursday, a major setback to Moscow's invasion that weakens its blockade of Ukraine's ports.

The news from the Black Sea came as NATO leaders met for a second day in Madrid, intent on demonstrating their unity and determination to back up Kyiv with advances weapons in the face of Moscow's assault.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, when the rocky outcrop's defenders told a Russian warship that called on them to surrender to "go f**k yourself," an incident that spurred a defiant meme.

It was also a strategic target, sitting aside shipping lanes near Ukraine's port of Odessa. Russia had attempted to install missile and air defense batteries while under fire from drones.

Now, however, Ukraine has begun to receive longer range missiles and military gear from its Western backers and Russia's position on Snake Island apparently became untenable. 

And Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Ukraine military's commander-in-chief, said on Telegram that Ukrainian-made howitzers also played an important role, according to the Reuters news service.

A satellite image shows an overview of Snake Island
A satellite image shows an overview of Snake Island, Ukraine, on June 21, 2022.  Maxar Technologies / handout via Reuters

Reuters says Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff, tweeted, "KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job."

The Russian defense ministry statement described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill" meant to demonstrate that Moscow won't interfere with U.N. efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.

But Kyiv claimed it as a win.

"I thank the defenders of Odessa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory," Valeriy Zaluzhny said.

Ukrainian troops on the island were captured by Russian forces but were later freed in a prisoner swap. Then Ukraine began heavily bombarding the small Russian presence there and its air defenses. 

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia's invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine's ports seized, razed or blockaded -- threatening grain importers in Africa with famine.

Western powers have accused President Vladimir Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

On Thursday, a ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain sailed from Ukraine's occupied port of Berdyansk, said the regional leader appointed by the Russian occupation forces.

Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Moscow administration, said Russia's Black Sea ships "are ensuring the security" of the journey he said, adding that the port had been de-mined.

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