A group of Ukrainian soldiers stationed on an island military outpost who were presumed dead after a terse yet profane interaction with a Russian warship last week may still be alive, Ukrainian officials announced Sunday.
The Ukrainian troops on Zmiiniy Island – also known as Snake Island – may instead have been captured by Russian military forces, according to a statement from the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.
“We sincerely hope that the boys will return home as soon as possible, and the information received at the time of the attack on the death will not be confirmed,” the statement reads.
Last Thursday a Russian warship reportedly approached Snake Island, which is located in the Black Sea off the Ukraine-Romania border, and asked the Ukrainian forces there to surrender.
“This is a Russian warship,” someone says in a verified recording of the standoff. “I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
The response from Ukraine was simple: “Russian warship. Go f*** yourself.”
The interaction went viral on social media, exemplifying the fight the outmatched but defiant Ukrainian military has been waging against the much larger Russian military.
Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova said 13 Ukrainian defenders were killed in the fighting that followed. Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy announced that each service member would posthumously be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine.
But the Ukrainian border guard service now says that Russian media reports indicate the captured defenders were sent to Sevastopol, a city in Russian-annexed Crimea.
TASS, the Russian state news agency, said on Friday that no Ukrainian troops had died in the confrontation but rather that 82 Ukrainian service members “voluntarily surrendered” to Russian forces.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying the captured soldiers were signing “written vows to reject military resistance” and would soon be returned to their families.