Snake Island: where is Ukraine’s Black Sea island, has Russia withdrawn troops, why is it called Snake Island?

Russia has announced that troops are withdrawing from Snake Island, the Black Sea location which hit the headlines at the start of the war

Russian troops are withdrawing from Snake Island after Ukrainian soliders were captured on the island at the beginning of the invasion.

The little known island is a key strategic location which Russia pinpointed in its assault on Ukraine.

A Russian warship moved in on the location, with a video of Ukrainian soliders attempting to protect their country going viral online.

Thirteen Ukrainian guards were captured by Russia during the initial conflict on Snake Island - known as Zimiinyi Island locally - however it has now also been confirmed that these guards have been released as part of the biggest prisoner exchange of the war so far.

The story of Snake Island has become an important symbol to Ukrainians throughout the war. (Credit: Getty Images)

Why did Russia withdraw from Snake Island?

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On 30 June 2022, it was confirmed that Russia was to withdrawn from Snake Island, the strategic location the country had captured four month earlier.

Russia has inisted that the withdrawl from Snake Island was a “goodwill gesture”, with the Russian Defence Ministry saying: “In order to organise humanitarian grain corridors as part of the implementation of joint agreements reached with the participation of the UN, the Russian Federation decided to leave its positions on Zmiinyi Island.”

However Ukraine has refutted this after saying that Russian troops were forced to leave after a prolonged attack by Ukrainian forces.

Troops had been relentlessly targeting a Russian garrison and air defence asset which had been stationed there since the start of the takeover.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said: “No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job.”

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What happened on Snake Island?

Footage from the island appeared on social media after Russian troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The terrifying footage showed a Russian warship approaching the coast of Snake Island, with an officer giving Ukrainian guards an ultimatum over a tannoy.

Ukrainian guards on Snake Island have been hailed heroes after a Russian warship attempted a takeoff of the small piece of land. (Credit: Twitter)

They said: “I am a Russian military ship. I repeat, I am a Russian military ship.

“I am proposing you put down your arms immediately to avoid bloodshed and unjustified deaths in the worse case you will be hit with a bomb strike.”

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This message to guards repeated as they urged the Ukrainian troops to acknowledge the demand.

What did Ukrainian guards say to Russian aggressors?

In response to the Russian demands, Ukrainian guard brave stood up for their region.

They shouted back: “F*** it as well. Russian warship go f*** yourself.”

Ukraine has said the men were killed during the assault, however Russia has insisted the the men - and all other people on the island - remain unharmed.

A statement from the Russian defence ministry said: “In the area of the Zmeiny (Snake) Island, 82 Ukrainian servicemen laid down their arms and voluntarily surrendered to a unit of the Russian Armed Forces.

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“At present, they are being asked to sign a refusal to take part in hostilities.

“In the near future they will be returned to their families”.

It was originally reported by Ukraine that the men had died in the attack on Snake Island.

However, the Ukrainian Navy confirmed shortly after that they all survived the standoff and have instead been captured by the Russian troops.

The 13 guards have been awarded the Hero of Ukraine award for their efforts in attempting to take on the Russian aggressors.

The Ukrainian Navy said: “We are very happy to learn that our brothers are alive and well.

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“The Marines and frontier guards [were] captured by the Russian occupiers on Snake Island.”

“The illegal seizure of a non-combatant civilian ship that did not carry out any military tasks is a violation of the rules and customs of war and international humanitarian law.

“We demand from the Russian Federation immediate release of illegally captured citizens of Ukraine.”

Why is Snake Island important?

The island is a key strategic point in Ukraine.

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This is because of its close location to Romania and being at the edge of Ukrainian territorial waters in the Black Sea.

Despite its small size, the Atlantic Council think tank believed that Snake Island was “key to Ukraine’s maritime territorial claims”.

This is likely why the island was targeted by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Why is it called Snake Island?

Snake Island may seem like a bizarre name for such an important location, but this is how the island got its name.

Snake Island was initially named ‘Leucos’ - meaning ‘white’ - by the ancient Greeks, and according to the ancient Greek writer Dionysius Periegetes, this was because the serpents found on the island were white.

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However, this appears to be myth, as there is no sign of any snakes on the island.

Until 2007, the island was also not populated with people.

Therefore the true origins of the name ‘Snake Island’ are unknown.

The Ukrainian word Zimiinyi is used by locals to refer to the location, with this meaning ‘winter’.

Where is Snake Island?

Snake Island is located around 30 miles off the southern coast of Ukraine.

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The small island is only 185 miles from Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.