Ukraine claims its forces forced Russian troops off Snake Island in the Black Sea, a claim Russia has denied, with Moscow calling it a withdrawal of its forces as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to show that the country does not impede efforts to allow the export of agricultural production.
The report came on June 30 as fighting raged in Lysychansk and a Moscow-appointed official in the Zaporizhzhya region said a shipment of grain had left the Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk, which is under Russian control. .
Control of Snake Island, located about 40 kilometers from the Ukrainian coast, had allowed Russia to threaten the sea lanes leading to Odessa, the main Ukrainian port for shipping grain to the world.
The island became a symbol of resistance for Ukraine when border guards stationed there refused Russian demands to surrender or die and its return is seen as a major victory.
“KABOOM! More Russian troops on Snake Island. Our armed forces have done a great job,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office, wrote on Twitter, along with a photo showing plumes of smoke rising from several parts of the island. small outpost captured by Russia at the start of its invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the return of Snake Island to Ukrainian control significantly changes the situation in the Black Sea.
Zelenskiy said in a video address late June 30 that the development does not guarantee security or that Russia will not return, but it does significantly limit Russian actions.
“Without a doubt, the main word today is snake,” he said, thanking Ukrainian intelligence services, soldiers and pilots for their role in liberating the island and again pledging to resume territory occupied by Russian forces.
“Step by step, we will drive them out of our sea, our land, our sky,” he said in the video message.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that its troops had left the island, which it used as an outpost to supply anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems to its forces, saying the withdrawal came after that the soldiers stationed there had carried out all the tasks assigned to them.
He also called the move a “goodwill gesture” to show that Russia is not hampering efforts to allow the export of agricultural products on a day when Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Moscow-appointed administration in the Zaporizhzhya region, said on Telegram that a merchant ship loaded with 7,000 tons of grain left Berdyansk for “friendly countries”. He did not specify.
Mason Clark, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said Ukraine’s expulsion of Russian forces from Snake Island is a significant achievement for Kyiv and a significant defeat for Russia.
He noted that Russia had not lifted the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, while its Black Sea Fleet and land-based anti-ship systems in Crimea and the Kherson region could still threaten ships sailing to Odessa.
“If Putin’s statement that the Russian retreat was a ‘goodwill gesture’ was real, he would lift the blockade and ensure the safety of neutral shipping to and from Odessa,” Clark said. “If he doesn’t, then the world must face the reality that Putin is still holding a significant portion of the world’s food supply hostage.”
Meanwhile, Lysychansk continued to come under heavy Russian artillery fire, with regional officials saying the last major Ukrainian barrage to the east had come under “enormous” shelling, as Russian forces shelled also civilian settlements in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Luhansk region military administration chief Serhiy Hayday said Lysychansk “is constantly being shelled” by Russian forces trying to encircle the strategic hilltop town – a key battleground in Moscow’s attempt to conquer Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as Donbass.
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After weeks of fighting that killed hundreds of civilians and turned the city to rubble, Moscow has taken control of neighboring Syevyerodonetsk and is now setting its sights on Lysychansk.
“Fighting continues on the outskirts of the city. The Russian army is constantly trying to attack,” Hayday told Ukrainian television, later posting the video on his Telegram channel.
“Now there is a peak in fighting. The frequency of shelling is enormous,” Hayday said, adding that there were still around 15,000 civilians left in the city, which had a population of almost 100,000 before the war.
The Russians “brought in a lot of vehicles, a huge number of people. The shelling and the attacks don’t stop,” Hayday said.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 30 that the fighting in Lysychansk is likely to be concentrated around the city’s oil refinery, about 10 kilometers southwest of the center, adding that Ukrainian forces continue to hold their positions in the city after their withdrawal from Syevyerodonetsk .
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian forces shelled the villages of Zelenodolsk and Velyka Kostromka, the head of the regional military administration, Valentyn Reznichenko, said.
“The enemy continues to terrorize the towns and villages of the Kryvyi Rih district… In Zelenodolsk, the enemy destroyed a warehouse containing 40 tons of grain. The explosion caused a fire,” Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
A push by Ukraine’s Western allies to send arms to Ukraine received a boost on June 30 when the United States said it would provide an additional $800 million in arms and military aid.
Speaking after a NATO summit in Madrid, US President Joe Biden said the war would not end with Russia’s victory over Ukraine, adding: “We will support Ukraine as long as ‘it will have to’.