Ukraine's Zelensky visits symbolic Snake Island to mark 500 days of war
The tiny island became a symbol of Ukrainian defiance on the war's first day after Ukrainian guards famously refused to surrender to Russian forces.
Zelensky, wearing a black hoodie and camouflage bullet-proof vest, laid flowers to honour those who defended the island, and thanked all the soldiers who have fought for Ukraine in the months since Russia's February 24, 2022 invasion.
"I want to thank - exactly from here, from this place of victory - each of our soldiers for these 500 days," said Zelensky, in a video posted on his Telegram channel.
"And may the freedom that all of our heroes of different times wanted for Ukraine, and which we have to win now, be a tribute to all those who gave their lives for Ukraine."
500 days of the full-scale war.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) July 8, 2023
Snake Island. The free island of free Ukraine.
I am grateful to everyone who fought here against the occupiers. We commemorated the heroes who gave their lives in this battle – one of the most important during the full-scale war.
Glory to… pic.twitter.com/RODccfWkWm
The strategic island overlooks sea lanes to Odesa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port.
In the first hours of the invasion, Russian officers on the Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva radioed Ukrainian guards on the barren outcrop, ordering them to surrender or die.
One of them radioed back "Russian warship, go fuck yourself."
The phrase became a national slogan, depicted on Ukrainian billboards, T-shirts, and eventually a postage stamp.
On April 14, 2022, two Ukrainian missiles struck the Moskva, the biggest warship sunk in combat for 40 years. Russia says one sailor was killed in an accident. Western experts say they believe around half of the crew of about 450 perished at sea.
On June 30, Russia abandoned Snake Island after taking heavy losses trying to defend it. It called its withdrawal another "goodwill gesture"
"Although it is a small piece of land in the middle of our Black Sea, it is a great proof that Ukraine will regain every part of its territory," Zelensky said.
Russia still holds swathes of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine but Zelensky said on Monday his troops had made some progress gaining ground in a counteroffensive after a "difficult week".