Moscow/Kiev, 30 June 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Russia said on Thursday it is withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island, or Snake Island, in the Black Sea, which it has occupied since the second day of the war.
Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that the withdrawal was a “sign of goodwill” and showed Russia was not obstructing the export of grain and agricultural products from Ukraine.
The forces “completed their assigned tasks on Snake Island,” he said.
Ukrainian forces have relentlessly attacked the small rocky island with armed drones and aircraft. It is strategically located only about 45 kilometres from Romania, near the Danube River delta.
Ukrainian Armed Forces commander Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said in a Facebook statement that Russia was “unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missile and airstrikes.”
He thanked the Ukrainian forces as well as Kiev’s foreign partners for their weaponry.
In mid-June, Ukrainian forces succeeded in attacking a Russian ship whose likely mission was to bring weapons and personnel to Russian occupied Snake Island, according to Western intelligence assessments.
The Vasily Bech had been damaged by anti-ship missiles provided to Ukraine by Denmark, according to Kiev.
It is not clear whether or how Snake Island’s change of hands could affect grain exports by sea from Ukraine.
For months Russia has been accused of blockading Ukrainian ports, hindering the export of grain and consequently increasing the risk of famine in poor countries.
The UN World Food Programme, for instance, sourced a large portion of its wheat supplies for emergency relief operations from Ukraine before Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday that a large quantity of grain was destroyed in a Russian attack in the east of the country.
A fire broke out in the affected warehouse in the city of Zelenodolsk, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Resnichenko, wrote on Telegram. Forty tons of grain were apparently destroyed.
Moscow, for its part, said a ship with 7,000 tons of grain had left the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk, the state news agency TASS reported. The destination of the cargo was not disclosed.
Evgeny Balitsky, leader of the Moscow-appointed administration in the Zaporizhzhya region, was reported as saying on Telegram that the ship would head to “friendly” countries.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said in a Thursday morning update that Russia was using artillery to try to blockade the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, the last remaining part of the eastern Luhansk region under Kiev’s control.
The Ukrainian general staff said attacks were taking place around the oil refinery in the city.
Pro-Russian separatists claimed to have taken control of the area around the plant, according to a Telegram update from their representative Rodion Miroshnik.
Ukraine’s military accused Russia of shelling civilian infrastructure, but the claims could not be independently verified.
Russian soldiers have already advanced to Lysychansk’s outskirts in recent days.
Ukraine said the bulk of the fighting was taking place to the west of the city and that Russian troops were still trying to control a key road between Lysychansk and the town of Bakhmut.
Arms continue to reach Ukrainian forces from allies abroad. Sweden plans to deliver more arms including anti-tank weapons, as well as mine-clearing equipment, the Defence Ministry in Stockholm said.
In total, the support package is worth about 500 million Swedish kronor ($48.7 million).
Sweden, which like its neighbour Finland applied for NATO membership in mid-May, has supplied Ukraine with various military equipment and goods on four previous occasions.
In London, the British government said it would allocate another 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) to go toward Ukraine’s war effort. Some 1.3 billion pounds has already been provided.
Zelensky tweeted in response that that Britain was Ukraine’s “true friend and strategic partner” and provided Kiev with “consistent” support.