Ukraine Situation Report: Zelensky Marks 500 Days Of War At Snake Island

Five-hundred grueling days have passed since the world watched Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine begin in a volley of cruise missile strikes and attacks into the country on the ground from multiple directions. 

Since then and at great cost, Ukraine has retaken much of the territory lost in those first days and weeks, and continues its counteroffensive in the hopes of retaking the remaining occupied territories in southern and eastern Ukraine. In a remarkable demonstration of how the war has turned, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the remote outpost of Snake Island, a place Ukrainian troops retook from Russian forces barely a year earlier

Zelensky and a cadre of Ukrainian troops laid flowers at a memorial in the island’s ruins, making an address under wind-whipped Ukrainian flags with the sun low on the horizon. The president also floated wreaths into the waters off the island’s rocky shoreline, ruined buildings visible on the cliffs above. 

“Today, we are on Snake Island … which will never be conquered by the occupier like the whole of Ukraine because we are a country of the brave,” Zelensky said. “Today, we honored here our Ukrainian heroes all the soldiers who fought for the island, who liberated it. And although this is a small piece of land in the middle of our Black Sea, it is great proof that Ukraine will regain every bit of its territory.

“I want to thank – from here, from this place of victory, each of our soldiers for these 500 days. Our armed forces, our intelligence, the national guard, our border guards, the security service of Ukraine, the national police, our liaison officers, our people, I thank you. Thank you to everyone who fights for Ukraine.”

In the war’s first hours, the island saw the birth of phrase “Russian warship, go fuck yourself,” a now-legendary act of defiance by the 13 Ukrainian Border Guards stationed on the island at the time. Battles on and around the island soon became some of Ukraine’s most stunning operations as the war dragged on into last summer. These included daring airstrikes, and ultimately its liberation.

It’s particularly notable that Ukrainian commanders, and Zelensky himself, considered it safe to make the voyage out to the island. While Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) priorities have shifted away from the island since abandoning it last summer, the high profile trip underlines Russia’s shrinking naval and air power domination in the western Black Sea.

Other commemorations marking 500 days of war came from many Ukrainian sources, including the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the British Ministry of Defense, and the Ukrainian news outlet UNITED24. 

Although considerable uncertainty remains about Ukraine’s future and how this war ends, it is nothing short of remarkable to see how Ukraine has changed in 500 days, and Zelensky himself is no exception. A side-by-side comparison shows how 500 days of war has hardened the former comedian into a charismatic wartime leader.

Before we head into the latest updates from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Ukrainian forces made “tactically significant gains in the Bakhmut area” amid ongoing counteroffensive operations throughout the frontline, per the Institute for the Study of War (@TheStudyofWar ) campaign assessment for July 7. Geolocated footage put Ukrainian troops within two kilometers of Bakhmut near the village of Yahidne.

These splintered trenches hosted brutal static warfare mere months ago, with the Ukrainians now on the offensive storming the Russian lines one dugout barrier at a time.

In its latest intelligence update on the war, the British Ministry of Defense noted fighting around Bakhmut has become some of the most intense along the entire front. Steady Ukrainian gains to the north and south of the ruined town, along with blistering Ukrainian artillery fire, have tanked Russian morale in the area.

However, incredible Russian losses during its months-long campaign against the Ukrainian bastion have likely made it “politically unacceptable” to retreat from Bakhmut. The captured town, or what’s left of it, is one of the few Russian territorial gains in the last 12 months of war, but there are scarce if any available reserves for Moscow to commit to its defense, according to the UK MoD.

ISW reports that Russian occupation authorities continue restricting monitors’ access to the facility. Specifically, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have not been allowed to inspect the reactor buildings’ roofs, where Ukraine has claimed Russian forces have put explosive devices.

Ukrainian military intelligence further claimed Saturday that occupying Russian troops have mined much of the facility and are still bringing explosives to the plant. 

The nearby Kakhovka Reservoir has thoroughly dried out after draining following the dam’s destruction in early June, as video from the former lakebed shows a shipwreck and nearby dock amid the cracked mud bottom. 

On the frontline around Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian counter-battery fire continues to strike Russian artillery groups. Video shows the destruction of two Russian BM-27 Uragan 220mm multiple rocket launchers, reportedly with GMLRS rockets, along the frontline. 

While Ukrainian artillery hunts Russian fire support, engineers with mine-clearing vehicles are becoming a common sight along the southern frontline. Video from the area shows three types of armored demining vehicles, a Leopard 1-based Wisent 1 MC, a UR-77 Meteorit, and a Leopard 2R with a mine plow. 

Their activities are for good reason, as video shows a failed Ukrainian attack that withered into retreat after the column of armored vehicles entered a Russian minefield. The mix of tanks and MaxxPro MRAPs struck the mines and were forced to withdraw.

On the topic of Ukrainian artillery, pictures have appeared of the domestically produced 2S22 Bohdana 155mm self-propelled howitzer in service with Ukraine’s 57th Motorized Brigade. 

Ukraine also appears to have used a captured Russian TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launcher against Russian positions, but it’s unclear whether they have potentially adapted nonstandard munitions in lieu of the weapon’s devastating warheads.

Video also shows a German-supplied PzH 2000 howitzer on the move, offering a close-up view of its rubber-like hedgehog armor plates on top of the turret.

Fallout from Wagner PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive coup on June 24 continues, with reporting from Politico that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) intercepted the call from Prigozhin to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The Germans reportedly listened in while Lukashenko negotiated with Prigozhin on Putin’s behalf as Wagner PMC vehicles marched on Moscow.

Reuters also reported this week that Syrian authorities and Russian military commanders took measures to prevent the Wagner rebellion from spreading to Russian forces in Syria, including blocking phone lines and summoning mercenary commanders.

BBC Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg and other journalists toured a disused Belarusian Army base that Lukashenko has offered to house Wagner PMC fighters. Tents for some 5,000 soldiers recently went up at the former base near the remote village of Tsel in central Belarus. 

Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesman Anton Gerashchenko posted a video from TikTok purporting to show a Wagner PMC convoy entering Belarus, but The War Zone cannot independently confirm the veracity of that claim. It comes the same day Prigozhin ally Anton Yelizarov claimed the mercenary group will encamp in Belarus in early August after a “vacation.”

Commanders of the Ukrainian Azov Regiment, taken prisoner after the siege of the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, returned from Turkey to Ukraine. The five POWs were released to Turkey in September, reportedly under the condition they remain in Turkey until the war’s end.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has since claimed that both the Ukrainian and Turkish governments have violated those agreed-upon terms and that Russia was not informed of the transfer. 

A new photo shows a Polish-supplied transporter truck hauling a pair of S-125 Newa SC (SA-3 “Goa”) surface-to-air missiles in Ukrainian service.

There’s a new Frankenstein vehicle in Ukrainian service, it appears. A picture from December shows an off-road vehicle with the front clip of a Russian GAZ-69 truck, the cabin off a Nissan Patrol sport-utility vehicle, and the bed and rollbar of some other 4×4 truck.

Ahead of the looming NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, a skyscraper in the Lithuanian capital bears a specific message for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Above the Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and NATO flags, a banner reads “Putin, The Hague is Waiting For You” in reference to a war crimes trial.

That’s all for now. We will update this story when there is more news to report on Ukraine. 

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