Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues as negotiations yield limited progress.
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The Ukrainian border guards who shouted “Go f*** yourself” at invading Russian forces in the Black Sea before they were captured have been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.
The 19 sailors defending Zmiinyi Island – also known as Snake Island – were released from Russian captivity on Thursday, according to Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereschuk.
In exchange, Ukraine freed 11 Russian civilian sailors they had rescued from a sunken ship near Odessa, Vereschuk said. It wasn’t immediately clear when the Russian sailors were captured.
“As a result of this exchange, 19 Ukrainian civilian sailors are returning home from the rescue ship Sapphire, which was captured by the occupiers while trying to take our troops from the island of Snake,” Vereschuk added.
⚡️ The first exchange of war hostages occurred on President @ZelenskyyUa‘s order. Additionally, today, #Ukraine exchanged 11 Russian sailors we rescued from a sunken ship near #Odesa to 19 Ukrainian sailors (authors of the legendary phrase “Russian warship go f*** yourself”)
— Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine – Ukrainian Parliament (@ua_parliament) March 24, 2022
Zelensky: today we lost 137 military and civilians, including 10 officers. All defenders of the Snake island are dead.
There have been reports about 11 female soldiers who died after Putin’s missile hit their barracks. #StandWithUkraine
— olexander scherba🇺🇦 (@olex_scherba) February 24, 2022
The group was initially thought to have been killed after a Russian warship approached Snake Island and ordered them to “lay down your weapons … to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed”.
An audio clip captured part of the ship’s confrontation with the contingent of Ukrainian soldiers who refused to abandon the post.
“Russian warship, go f*** yourself,” the defiant Ukrainian defenders responded.
An aerial attack and artillery shelling ensued and communications with the border guards and armed forces on the island were severed.
Soon after, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said that Snake Island had fallen to Russian forces, and claimed all defenders had been killed.
“All the defenders of the island of Zmiinyi died, but did not surrender,” Zelenskyy said.
“All of them will be named Heroes of Ukraine.”
— David Kime (@CyberRealms1) February 24, 2022
It was later confirmed that the guards were actually alive and being held by the Russians as prisoners of war.
The first report that they had not been killed came when the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine issued a new statement indicating the defenders may still be alive.
“We [have a] strong belief that all Ukrainian defenders of Zmiinyi (Snake) Island may be alive,” the statement said.
Images were then released by the Russian Defense Ministry, which claimed the guards, part of the Ukrainian independent law enforcement agency, the State Border Guard Service, were still alive after “voluntarily” surrendering their garrison to Russian troops.
Almost a dozen photos released by Russia purportedly showed the men boarding buses, being given bottled water and a food parcel, before being shown sitting in their seats.
The Vasily Bykov, a small warship known as a “corvette,” was one of two Russian vessels that opened fire on Snake Island on February 24, according to the Janes military intelligence group.
It was later hit during an exchange of rockets, possibly by a missile fired by land-based Ukrainian forces defending the port city of Odessa, which for days has been bracing for a Russian attack, the Times said.
“Ship was destroyed, it is confirmed,” a Ukrainian military source told the British paper.
The Ukrainian navy also reportedly said units defending Odessa had “struck an enemy ship”, adding: “The enemy has retreated again.”