Since February 24, there is a lot of talk about the Zmiiny (‘Snake’) Island in the Black Sea, occupied by Russians from the very beginning of the invasion.
It was on this tiny island, that the world-famous phrase was born: “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself”. On June 30, the island was liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russian troops finally withdrew.
We have decided to tell you more about this mysterious place with long history and unique nature. And of course, about its role in the current Russian-Ukrainian war.
The Snake Island belonging to Ukraine is located in the Black Sea, near the Danube Delta, and has an important role in delimiting Ukrainian territorial waters. It has an area of just 20,5 ha. The maximal length is 662 meters, and the width 560 meters.
The island has been known since classical antiquity. According to an Ancient Greek legend, the island was raised from the sea by the goddess Thetis for her son Achilles. There was a temple to Achilles on the island and according to one version, Achilles was buried there. The first mention of the island appeared in written sources at the end of 8th century BC; there it was called Levka (‘White’). The Romans also called the island ‘White’ – lat. Alba.
Other names (in particular, the modern Ukrainian name ‘Zmiiny’) associated with the fact that the island was home to many snakes (water snakes), which were brought here from the mouth of the Danube and lived here in large numbers in the 19th century.
The Snake Island has a significant meaning not only today. It was very important during the great Greek colonization of the Northern Black Sea coast of the 8-6 centuries BC. Greek ships docked here; seafarers, merchants, sailors of war visited the temple of Achilles, who was considered the lord and patron of the Black Sea, worshipped Achilles and made sacrifices.
The ruins of the temple (a square building with a side of about 30 meters) were discovered and described in the 19th cent. Then a significant number of building materials from the ruins were used to build a lighthouse on the island.
Snake Island is a unique place. It is a rocky island composed of powerful rock formations. The island is one of the ecologically cleanest corners of Ukraine. In the waters of the island there are many red-listed sea creatures: dolphins, crabs and others. The island itself is a resting place for migratory birds. At least, it was so, till Russia invaded Ukraine and began active military actions in this area.
The island is populated. There is a tiny village called Bile, which means ‘White’ (now you know that is because of the ancient name of the island!). The village has only one street (Kozatska str.) and a population up to 30 people.
It was founded in February 2007 with the purpose of consolidating the status of the island as an inhabited place. This happened during the period in which the island was part of a border dispute between Romania and Ukraine from 2004 to 2009. In 2009, the International Court of Justice ruled that Romania owns almost 80% of the Black Sea continental shelf, but the island remained part of Ukraine which delimits its territorial waters.
Now, the Bile village situated in the middle of the island belongs to the Odesa region. The distance from the island to Odesa is 120 km.
The island is located approximately 48 km from the coast of Ukraine, 290 km from the Crimea and is close to sea routes leading to the Bosporus and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Snake Island is of strategic importance for the AFU: it is the only region through which Russia can try to land troops on the territory of the Odesa region with a subsequent offensive against Moldova.
“The party which controls the island can at any moment block the movement of civilian ships in all directions to the south of Ukraine [...] This is a strategically important point to open trade sea routes, to bring us weapons and exclude any possible Russian military action on the territory of the unrecognized “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic” from which they can attack the western part of Ukraine,” said Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Intelligence Department of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
February 24: Two Russian warships approached the Snake Island, one of which was the flagship of the Russian Navy, the ‘Moskva’ cruiser. The soldiers of the Izmail border detachment, who were serving on the island, were demanded to surrender. It was then that the phrase which became a real slogan of the Ukrainian resistance was uttered: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself”.
After that, the Russian military launched a gunfire attack on the territory using ship-to-shore weapons and combat aviation. Communication with the Ukrainian defenders was lost and they were presumed dead.
February 26: The occupants seized near the island the civilian ‘Sapphire’ rescue vessel, sent to rescue the border guards and marines.
February 28: It became known that 13 Ukrainian defenders were alive and in Russian captivity.
March 24: Ukraine conducted a prisoner exchange with Russia and dismissed 19 sailors and 10 military personnel, among them the sailors from the rescue boat who were sent to the Snake Island. As per July 1, the rest of the defenders of the island are in captivity.
April 13: The Ukrainian military struck the ‘Moskva’ cruiser with Neptun missiles, so it sank. This was a turning point in the battle of the Snake Island, because without the support of a combat vessel, the Russian supply ships had become virtually defenseless.
April 27: The AFU carried out strikes against enemy positions on the island. The Russian control post was damaged and a Strela-10 surface-to-air missile system was destroyed.
May 1: An activation of the enemy fleet forces was recorded. The Russians attempted to evacuate and resupply their units on the island.
May 3: Ukrainian soldiers carried out strikes from Bayraktar drones and destroyed Russian command post.
May 7: An air battle took place, with the enemy taking casualties in both island forces and naval vessels. Three Russian landing boats were also destroyed by the Bayraktar. In addition, the AFU shot down an enemy helicopter with landing party.
May 11: British intelligence reported that fighting on the Snake Island continued. Russia repeatedly tried to reinforce its open garrison located there, but Ukraine successfully attacked Russian air defenses and supply ships.
Early June: The Ukrainian military command reported that the Russians had deployed anti-aircraft missile systems and multiple rocket launchers on the Snake Island, the range of which reached the southern regions of the Odesa Oblast.
June 17: The Ukrainian Naval Forces hit a Russian tugboat with a TOR surface-to-air missile system on board, which was carrying people and weapons to the island. The boat was hit by the long-range US Harpoon anti-ship missiles. About 70% of the crew was damaged.
June 20: Explosions were heard on the island, and the media reported fires.
June 21: The Ukrainian military struck the occupying garrison on the island. “What the Russians proudly called an island garrison accounts for significant losses. The military operation is ongoing and needs informational silence until its completion,” said a message from the Operational Command South.
June 22: The AFU destroyed a Russian Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile system, a radar station and some vehicles.
On the night of June 30, Ukrainian troops struck the decisive blow at the Snake Island, after which the Russians left the island.
“Unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missiles and air strikes, the occupiers left the island”, wrote the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, on Facebook.
The liberation of Snake Island by Ukrainian troops resulted in the loss of Russian control over this part of the Black Sea. This was a huge victory for the AFU.
So far, AFU have completed the first phase of the Black Sea deblocking. If they hold the dominance here, the conditions are created where it is dangerous for the Russian military fleet to be in the Black Sea at a distance of up to 200 km from the Ukrainian coastline.
Regarding this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Russia's exit from the Snake Island shows 'impossible' to subdue Ukraine”.
We will keep you updated regarding our ‘mysterious’ Snake Island.
Author - Anastasiya Glotova, 01/07/2022