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The 13 Ukrainian troops on Zmiiniy Island, or “Snake” Island, might still be alive after defying a Russian warship last week – after they were previously believed to have been killed, the Ukrainian government said.
“The SBGSU and the Armed Forces, like the whole of Ukraine, have received hope that all of Zmiiny’s defenders are alive,” the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said in a Facebook post on Saturday, noting that Russian media claims the soldiers were captured, not killed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had announced Thursday that the soldiers were killed after a Russian warship approached the island and instructed the Ukrainian soldiers to surrender or risk being killed, the Washington Post reported. The Ukrainian military then lost communication with the border guards and they were presumed to be dead.
“I am a Russian warship,” the ship blared to the nearby island, “I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
The Ukrainians defied the ultimatum and responded: “Russian warship, go f— yourself.”
Zelenskyy said he would award each of the 13 troops who “died heroically” with the title Hero of Ukraine, the Washington Post reported.
“May the memory of those who gave their lives for Ukraine live forever,” he added.
But the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine provided hope the soldiers might still be alive.
“As previously reported, on February 24, the aggressor fired from naval weapons and used combat aircraft on border guards and soldiers of the Armed Forces on the island of Zmiiny. According to available information at the time, the infrastructure was destroyed and the island captured,” it wrote in the post.
The account added: “Prior to that, the enemy repeatedly tried in vain to intimidate Ukrainian defenders with demands to surrender and received only one correct answer – no one will surrender.”
“We understand that Russian propagandists know how to make the necessary information attacks and use them, noting that Ukrainian defenders have surrendered,” it continued, “Border guards and fighters of the Armed Forces bravely defended themselves, especially in the face of the overwhelming means of defeat and enemy forces.”
The Ukrainian Armed Forces are working to identify the soldiers and to orchestrate their return home “as soon as possible,” it said in a post.