Ukraine raises flag on recaptured island as Russia consolidates gains in east

  • Ukraine raises flag on recaptured Black Sea island
  • Russia launches airstrike on island
  • Russia consolidates gains in eastern Ukraine
  • Shells and probes defend new territory it seeks

Kiev, July 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops raised their national flag on a recaptured Black Sea island on Thursday as a symbol of resistance to Moscow, but Russian forces consolidated gains in eastern Ukraine and examined the defense of potential new targets.

Moscow responded quickly to the flag ceremony. It said one of its warplanes hit Snake Island shortly after, destroying part of the Ukrainian detachment there.

The small island, about 140 km (90 miles) south of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, is of strategic importance as it guards the shipping lanes. Russia left it in late June in what it said was a goodwill gesture — a victory for Ukraine that Kiev hoped could lift Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

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Footage released by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry on Thursday shows three Ukrainian soldiers raising the blue-and-yellow national flag on a patch of land on Snake Island next to the remains of a bulldozed building.

“Glory to Ukrainian soldiers,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, suggested that this would be a moment that would repeat itself across Ukraine in the coming months.

“Ukraine’s flag is on Snake Island. Before us are many more such videos of Ukrainian cities currently under temporary occupation,” he wrote on Telegram.

The Russian rocket attack on the island’s new residents had caused significant damage to the dock, Odessa regional government spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said.

Brachuk said two more Russian missiles had hit and destroyed two grain stores in his region containing 35 tons of grain.

In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said several Ukrainian troops landed on the island before dawn and took photos with the flag.

“A plane of the Russian Aerospace Forces immediately launched a high-precision missile attack on Snake Island, destroying part of the Ukrainian military personnel,” said ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukraine’s refusal to bow to Russia’s will early in the war after Ukrainian troops stationed there delivered a salty response when the commander of a Russian ship asked him to surrender.

‘OPERATIONAL PAUSE?’

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, meanwhile, continued to put pressure on Ukrainian forces trying to hold the line along the northern borders of the Donetsk region, in preparation for an expected wider new offensive against it.

After Moscow took the city of Lysychansk on Sunday and effectively bolstered their total control over Ukraine’s Luhansk region, Moscow has made it clear that it plans to take parts of the neighboring Donetsk region it has not yet taken. Kiev still controls some major cities.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, who has complained about intense Russian shelling in recent days, wrote on Telegram that seven civilians have been killed by Russia in the region in the past 24 hours.

Reuters was unable to independently verify its claim and the Russian Defense Ministry says it is not targeting civilians and using precision weapons to eliminate military threats.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces are moving more units to the Luhansk region to consolidate control of Moscow there.

Ukrainian officials on Wednesday said fighting was ongoing on the northern border between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions as Russian forces attempted to make new breakthroughs.

But after Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted to calm troops involved in the conquest of the Luhansk region, a full-scale offensive is yet to come.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia does not appear to have taken any new territory since Sunday’s capture of Lysychank.

It ruled that “Russian Armed Forces are on an operational hiatus while still conducting limited ground attacks to create conditions for larger offensive operations”.

Putin launched his invasion on February 24, calling it a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine, wipe out what he believes were dangerous nationalists and protect Russian speakers in that country.

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

After Russia failed to take the capital Kiev early, Russia is now waging a war of attrition for Ukraine’s Donbas region, which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Russia says it wants to take control of the eastern and heavily industrial region on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-declared people’s republics.

Ukraine has repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons to end a conflict that has left thousands dead, millions displaced and cities devastated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his overnight video message that his troops now had what they needed.

“Finally, the western artillery starts to work powerfully, the weapons that we get from our partners. And their accuracy is exactly what is needed,” he said.

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Reporting by Reuters agencies; Written by Michael Perry and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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