By Yaroslav Lukov & Paul Kirby
(BBC) – This tiny, rocky outcrop in the north-west of the Black Sea was seized by Russia on the first day of its invasion of Ukraine, and it has played an outsized role in the war ever since.
After more than four months of repeated Ukrainian bombardment, Russian forces have abandoned Snake or Zmiinyi Island, as it is known in Ukraine.
Russia says it has withdrawn its garrison as a “gesture of goodwill” to prove it was not obstructing grain exports, but Ukraine dismissed that claim, as Moscow continued to shell its grain stores.
Difficult to defend
The island is exposed to attacks from all directions from air and sea, and the small garrison tasked with defending it – first Ukrainians and later Russians – has been described as “sitting ducks” by military experts.
Seized by the Russians on 24 February, Snake Island is located just 35km (22 miles) off Ukraine’s coast – well within the range of missile, artillery and drone strikes from the shore.
And Ukraine’s armed forces have done exactly that, claiming a series of devastating attacks on the island itself and any vessel bringing troop deployments and heavy weaponry.