Russian forces abandoned the strategic Black Sea outpost of Snake Island on Thursday, in a major victory for Ukraine that could loosen a Russian grain export blockade threatening to worsen global hunger.
Russia's defense ministry said it had decided to withdraw from the outcrop as a "gesture of goodwill" that showed Moscow was not obstructing UN efforts to open a humanitarian corridor allowing grains to be shipped from Ukraine's ports.
Ukraine said it had driven the Russian forces out after a massive artillery and assault overnight.
"KABOOM!" tweeted Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy's chief of staff. "No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job."
Ukraine's southern military command posted an image on Facebook of what appeared to be the island, seen from the air, with at least five huge columns of black smoke rising above it from what it described as an assault by missiles and artillery.
"The enemy hurriedly evacuated the remains of the garrison with two speed boats and probably left the island. Currently, Snake island is consumed by fire, explosions are bursting."
- Understand Ukraine's History and Identity With These Must-read Books
- After Fall of Mariupol, the Most Important Battle Is Not in Ukraine's East
- The Ukraine War Is Leaving a New Middle East in Its Wake
Reuters could not immediately verify the photograph or either side's battlefield accounts.
The bare rocky outcrop controls sea lanes to Odessa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port, where Russia's blockade has prevented grain exports from one of the world's main suppliers, creating a global shortage, price inflation and risk of famine.
Russia captured the island on the war's first day, when a Ukrainian guard there, ordered by Russian cruiser Moskva to surrender, radioed back "Russian warship: go fuck yourself."
That incident was immortalized on a Ukrainian postage stamp. The day the stamp was issued, Ukraine sank the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Last month Britain's defense ministry said that if Russia were able to consolidate its grip on Snake Island with air defense and coastal defense cruise missiles, it could dominate the north-western Black Sea.
Russia had defended the island since February, despite Ukraine increasingly claiming to inflict severe damage, sinking supply vessels and destroying Russian fortifications.