Ukraine Plants Flag On Snake Island, Russians Claim Deadly Response

Flying the Ukraine flag over the battered Black Sea outpost is a major victory for Ukraine.

byHoward Altman|
Ukraine raises the flag
A Ukrainian soldier raises the flag on Snake Island. Via Telegram


The battle for Snake Island continued Thursday morning, after Ukraine soldiers raised their national flag and Russians claimed they killed some of those troops.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) tweeted out a photograph Thursday morning of Ukrainian troops raising a large blue and yellow Ukrainian flag near the edge of the bombed-out island’s shoreline.

That flag contained a message in Ukrainian to Russia.

"Russian warship, remember forever - Snake Island is Ukraine!!!"

The flag Ukraine planted on Snake Island contained a message to Moscow. Via Telegram

Another photo shared through Ukrainian Telegram channels showed a Ukraine soldier climbing atop a damaged structure to raise the flag.

Ukrainian troops raised their flag on Snake Island, where battle damage after multiple bombardments by both sides is evident. Via Telegram

The extent of the damage is visible in yet another photo shared from the island, with nearly all structures seen in the photo largely destroyed, though one Russian vehicle, emblazoned with the Z symbol, remained intact.

The damage on Snake Island was extensive after repeated bombardment. Via Telegram

In a video shot on the island, Ukraine soldiers proudly proclaim that "the flag of Ukraine has been raised on the Snake Island again. It was our and always will be ours. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Glory to the defenders of Azovstal!"

“As a symbol of Victory, Ukrainian soldiers installed the State Flag of Ukraine, which was delivered to the island earlier, on the island of Snake,” Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate (GUR) stated on its Telegram channel Thursday. “GUR of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine sincerely thanks all comrades in arms for liberating the island from the occupiers!”

But the Russians claim they got their last licks in.

“Amid military failures and a massive retreat of Ukrainian forces in Donbass, on the night of July 7, the Kiev regime attempted to symbolically deliver the flag to Snake Island,” the Russian MOD said in a statement on its Telegram channel.

“Around 5am, several Ukrainian soldiers boarded the island from a motorboat and were photographed with the flag. Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft immediately struck Snake Island with high-precision missiles, killing some of the Ukrainian troops. The survivors fled in the direction of Primorske, Odessa region.”

A source in Ukraine, however, disputes this.

Ukrainian troops were on the island for only a few hours, Andrii Ryzhenko, a retired Ukraine Navy captain and former member of that nation's general staff, told The War Zone Thursday. However, the Russian response came after they left, hitting the pier on the island with two missiles.

No Ukrainian troops were killed because they were long gone, Ryzhenko said.

"This is again propaganda."

The Pentagon declined to comment about the latest situation on Snake Island. We reached out to the GUR and will update this story with any new information.

Thursday’s flag-planting, acknowledged by both Ukraine and Russia, comes just days after a Ukrainian military official said it would be too risky to send troops to raise the flag there.

"It will wait for the arrival of the troops, then it will wave,” Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, told reporters, according to The Guardian.

“No one landed on the island. So who will install it, stick it in, raise it?” she told CNN, The Guardian reported. “And no one will risk people for the sake of a photo for the media.”

Snake Island has been the site of numerous Ukrainian attacks after the Russians first captured it on Feb. 24. Satellite image by Maxar Technologies. Maxar

Snake Island was captured by Russia on Feb. 24, the first day of the war. After repeated bombardment by Ukraine forces, Russia evacuated the island on June 30. A few days later, both sides took turns raining ordnance on the relatively small outcropping in the western Black Sea. The Russians hit it on July 1 in an apparent attempt to destroy leftover equipment. Ukraine forces hit it later that day in an apparent attempt to destroy equipment the Russians were trying to recover.

We’ve covered this saga frequently, which you can read about here, here and here.

The island has great strategic value, because if someone were able to hold it in a secure manner, its location makes it a commanding position from which to cover a large swath of the Black Sea with anti-ship missile systems. For Russia, if long-range surface-to-air systems were deployed there they could engage targets deep into western Ukraine. It also sits very close to NATO countries and would put them under missile threat while also acting as a base for persistent surveillance into those territories. But for Ukraine particularly, the island has tremendous symbolic value. It was the site of the infamous incident where one of the Ukrainian Border Guards on the island responded to a call to surrender from the Russian Navy cruiser Moskva, then the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, by saying “Russian warship, go fuck yourself!”

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But the future of that ship was a harbinger for how things would play out on Snake Island.

The Moskva was sunk in April 2022. Ukrainian and U.S. officials attributed that to an attack by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles while Russian air defenses in the Black Sea were left degraded. This likely figured into why Russia beefed up ground-based air defense systems on the island, which were in turn subject to repeated Ukrainian attacks. These left several smaller military vessels sunk or damaged and saw Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker fighter jets and Bayraktar TB2 drones used to strike the island. Russia also began strapping Tor short-range air defense systems to naval vessels without organic air defense capabilities.

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What really made the island too costly to hold for Russia was Ukrainian artillery that began bombarding it constantly. With little to no defense and unable to interdict the artillery pieces operating along the coastline, and with the long-range HIMARS rocket system arriving which would make doing so that much harder, Russia made a hasty retreat.

The vulnerability of the island to attack makes it questionable if either side will attempt another long-term occupation.

“I don't think it's a good idea” to keep Ukrainian troops on the island “because the Russians also can easily hit it with missiles with air strikes,” Ryzhenko told The War Zone earlier this week. “They have superiority in the air and on the sea.”

Instead, he said, Ukraine is patrolling the island with unmanned aircraft and surface vessels.

How long the Ukraine flag will remain planted on the island is unknown, but it is likely the saga of Snake Island is far from over.

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Update 2:20 p.m.

This story is updated to reflect that Ukraine forces were on Snake Island July 7.