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Ukraine wins back control over Snake Island

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 05: A participant wears a t-shirt that celebrates the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island who refused to surrender to Russian naval forces during a protest gathering to demand Europe keep its promises towards supporting Ukraine on June 05, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. Approximately 100 people, mostly Ukrainians living in Berlin, protested too to demand that Germany deliver its promised heavy weaponry to Ukraine in support of Ukraine's current armed struggle against the ongoing Russian invasion. Russia's current war against Ukraine, which many had expected to conclude within weeks of its February 24 launch, recently surpassed 100 days and is now concentrated in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 05: A participant wears a t-shirt that celebrates the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island who refused to surrender to Russian naval forces during a protest gathering to demand Europe keep its promises towards supporting Ukraine on June 05, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. Approximately 100 people, mostly Ukrainians living in Berlin, protested too to demand that Germany deliver its promised heavy weaponry to Ukraine in support of Ukraine's current armed struggle against the ongoing Russian invasion. Russia's current war against Ukraine, which many had expected to conclude within weeks of its February 24 launch, recently surpassed 100 days and is now concentrated in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.