Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the 500th day of the war Saturday, by hailing the country's soldiers in a video from a Black Sea island that became the symbol of Ukraine’s resilience in the face of the Russian invasion.
Speaking from Snake Island, he honoured the Ukrainian soldiers who fought for the island and all other defenders of the country, saying that reclaiming control of the island “is great proof that Ukraine will regain every bit of its territory.”
“I want to thank – from here, from this place of victory – each of our soldiers for these 500 days,” Zelenskyy said. “Thank you to everyone who fights for Ukraine!”
Standoff on Snake Island
Russian forces took control of the tiny stone island on the 24th of February 2022, the day Moscow launched its invasion. They hoped to use it as a staging ground for an assault on Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port and the headquarters of its navy.
The island took on legendary significance for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion when Ukrainian troops there reportedly received a demand from a Russian warship to surrender or be bombed. The answer supposedly came back, “Go (expletive) yourself.”
Ukraine has celebrated the story with patriotic fervour, issuing a postage stamp in commemoration.
The island’s Ukrainian defenders were captured by the Russians. However, they were later freed as part of a prisoner exchange. After the island was taken, the Ukrainian military heavily bombarded the small Russian garrison there, forcing the Russians to pull back on June 30, 2022. The Russian retreat reduced the threat of a seaborne Russian attack on Odesa and helped pave the way for a deal to resume Ukrainian grain exports.
“Let the freedom that all our heroes of different times wanted for Ukraine and that must be won right now be a tribute to all those who gave their lives for Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “We will definitely win!”
500 days and over 9,000 victims
On Friday, the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) issued a report lamenting the death of over 9,000 civilians, over 500 of which are children, since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022.
The international organisation did warn, however, that the numbers may, in fact, be much higher due to limited access to certain areas and underreporting of casualties.
In a statement, the United Nations said it "deplored the horrendous civilian cost of the war in Ukraine."
“Today we mark another grim milestone in the war that continues to exact a horrific toll on Ukraine’s civilians,” said Noel Calhoun, the deputy head of HRMMU.
Talks with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul
Earlier on Saturday, President Zelenskyy also held talks in Istanbul with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
He thanked Patriarch Bartholomew for his support during their meeting, where they discussed a "peace formula" for the situation in Ukraine.