Ukraine challenges Russia and raises flag on recaptured Snake Island


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KYIV/BAKHMUT – Ukrainian forces raised their national flag on a recaptured Black Sea island on Thursday in an act of defiance against Moscow, but Kyiv lost a key international supporter after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would would resign.

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Russian forces also shelled potential conquests in eastern Ukraine ahead of an expected new offensive.

Moscow has made no secret of its joy at the political demise of Johnson, a leader it has long criticized for arming Kyiv with so much energy.

“The moral of the story is this: don’t seek to destroy Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “Russia cannot be destroyed. You can knock your teeth out on it and then choke on it.

Johnson said British support for Ukraine would continue regardless, but his resignation comes at a time of domestic turmoil in some other European countries that support Kyiv amid doubts over their ability to stay in what has become a protracted conflict.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, thanked Johnson, saying he had been someone who “started calling a spade a spade from the beginning.”

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Moscow was quick to respond to Ukraine’s provocative flag-raising ceremony on Snake Island, located about 140 km south of the Ukrainian port of Odessa.

Its warplanes hit the strategic island soon after and destroyed part of the Ukrainian detachment there, he added.

Russia abandoned Snake Island in late June in what it said was a goodwill gesture – a victory for Ukraine that Kyiv hoped could ease Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Footage released by Ukraine on Thursday showed three Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the blue and yellow national flag on a field next to the remains of a flattened building.

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, suggested that this moment would be one that will be repeated throughout Ukraine in the months to come.

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“The flag of Ukraine is on Snake Island. We have before us many more such videos from Ukrainian cities currently under temporary occupation,” he wrote on Telegram.

The Russian missile strike on the island’s new residents caused significant damage to its wharf, Odessa regional administration spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said.

In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said several Ukrainian soldiers had landed on the island before dawn.

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“A Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft immediately launched a strike with high-precision missiles,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bend to Russia’s will at the start of the war after Ukrainian forces stationed there fought back when the commander of a Russian ship told them asked to surrender.

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BURNING FIELDS

Meanwhile, Russian forces in eastern Ukraine maintained pressure on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the line along the northern borders of the Donetsk region, in preparation for a planned wider offensive against she.

After taking the city of Lysychansk on Sunday and cementing its full control over Ukraine’s Luhansk region, Moscow made it clear that it plans to capture parts of the neighboring Donetsk region it has yet to seize. Kyiv still controls some major cities.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who has complained of heavy Russian shelling in recent days, said seven civilians had been killed by Russia in the region in the past 24 hours.

The mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk said Russian forces fired missiles at the city center in an airstrike on Thursday and there were casualties.

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Reuters could not independently verify these claims. The Russian Defense Ministry said it did not target civilians and used high-precision weapons to eliminate military threats.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were moving more units to the Luhansk region in order to consolidate Moscow’s control there.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said fighting was ongoing on the northern border between Lugansk and Donetsk regions as Russian forces tried to make further inroads.

But after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted the troops involved in capturing the Lugansk region to rest, a full offensive has yet to take place.

The US-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said Russia appeared to have taken no new territory since seizing Lysychansk on Sunday.

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He felt that “Russian forces are conducting an operational pause while continuing to engage in limited ground attacks to create the conditions for larger offensive operations.”

In the frontline town of Bakhmut, smoke rose from nearby hills where Ukrainian forces fired artillery shells, prompting Russian volleys in response.

People walked quickly between the market stalls, but barely reacted to the frequent loud explosions.

Olena Kandeluk, 53, said shelling had increased in recent days as fighting died down after Lysychansk fell.

“We have crops to harvest. Some fields burned,” she said, explaining why she stayed.

Some fields were charred by Ukrainian rocket launches and others by incoming Russian fire, she said.

Putin launched his invasion on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine, root out what he called dangerous nationalists and protect the country’s Russian speakers.

Ukraine and its allies say Russia has launched an imperial-style land grab, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.

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