Ukraine's Zelenskiy visits Snake Island to mark 500 days of war
PHOTO CAPTION: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen in a boat as he visits Snake (Zmiinyi) Island in the Black Sea, retaken by the Ukrainian Armed Forces a year ago, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released July 8, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
(Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Snake Island, a rocky outcrop on the Black Sea, to mark 500 days since Russia's invasion, a video issued by his office on Saturday showed.
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.
Zelenskiy, 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 Feb. 24, 2022 invasion.
"I want to thank - exactly from here, from this place of victory - each of our soldiers for these 500 days," said Zelenskiy, 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."
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," Zelenskiy said.
Russia still holds swathes of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine but Zelenskiy said on Monday his troops had made some progress gaining ground in a counteroffensive after a "difficult week".
(Editing by Ros Russell, William Maclean)