Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine's Snake Island

Snake island, near Ukraine’s port of Odesa. Credit: AP

Russia’s defence ministry says it has withdrawn its forces from a Black Sea island near Ukraine’s port of Odesa. The ministry said that it pulled back its forces from the Zmiyinyy (Snake) Island on Thursday in what it described as a “goodwill gesture”.

It added that the pull-out has demonstrated that “the Russian Federation wasn’t hampering the United Nations’ efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor for taking agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine.”

Ukraine and the West have accused Russian of blockading Ukrainian ports to prevent the exports of grain, contributing to the global food crisis.

Correspondent John Ray, reporting from Kyiv, explains why this is an important, significant victory for Ukraine

Russia has denied the accusations and charged that Ukraine needs to remove sea mines from the Black Sea to allow safe navigation.

Russia took control of the island in the opening days of its military action in Ukraine in an apparent hope to use it to control the area and use it as a staging ground for an attack on Odesa. Russian forces stationed there have come under relentless Ukrainian attacks.

Meanwhile, in the east, Moscow kept up its push to take control of the entire Donbas region from Ukraine, which is focused on Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk province.

Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.

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The Ukrainian General Staff said that the Russian troops were shelling Lysychansk and clashing with Ukrainian defenders around an oil refinery on the edge of the city. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said that Russian reconnaissance units tried to enter Lysychansk on Wednesday, but were repelled by the Ukrainian forces.

He said the Russians were trying to block a highway used to deliver supplies and fully encircle the city. “The Russians have thrown practically all their forces to seize the city,” Mr Haidai said.

At least 18 people were killed by a Russian missile strike on a busy Ukrainian shopping mall on Monday.

Speaking on a visit to Turkmenistan early Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goals in Ukraine haven't changed since the start of the war.

He said they were “the liberation of the Donbas, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself.”

He made no mention of his original stated goals to “demilitarise” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. He denied Russia had adjusted its strategy after failing to take Kyiv in the early stage of the conflict.

“As you can see, the troops are moving and reaching the marks that were set for them for a certain stage of this combat work. Everything is going according to plan,” President Putin said at a news conference in Turkmenistan. In central Ukraine, funerals were to be held Thursday for some of the 18 people confirmed killed by Monday's Russian missile strike on a busy shopping mall in Kremenchuk.

Crews continued to search through the rubble in search of another 20 people who remain missing.

After the attack on the mall, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state.

On Wednesday, he reproached Nato for not embracing or equipping his embattled country more fully.