Snake Island holds a special place in Ukrainian folklore, now more than ever. Its defense of defiance — when a Russian warship was famously told to “fuck it” — and then reconquest united a country in the early months of the conflict with Russia, breaking the aggressor The Myth of Advantage.
Now, blown by the winter wind, it remains firmly in Ukrainian hands—a rock of symbolic and strategic importance.
A CNN team became the first foreign media outlet to visit the island since the island was retaken in June and spoke with the commander of the operation that led to the island’s liberation.
Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the Ukrainian coast near the maritime border with Romania and covers several acres of rocky and grassy, treeless and inaccessible.
Getting there proved challenging: an hour’s worth of rafting from wave to wave in a small boat in subfreezing temperatures. The Black Sea can be unforgiving, and so can its treacherous coastline. On the way back, our ship got stuck on a sandbar and it took us six hours to be transferred to another ship, one by one, in the dark.
Snake Island is now a desolate place, littered with wreckage, the few buildings turned into shells, and the half-submerged breakwaters washed away by the tide. It is a graveyard for expensive military equipment – full of unexploded ordnance and landmines. This is not a place to be careless.
The CNN team saw at least four different mines, the Russian Pantsir surface-to-air missile system, and a nearly intact Tor air defense missile complex. There is also the wreckage of a hit Russian military helicopter.
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