Snake Island holds an ever more special place in Ukrainian folklore. His defiant defense—when a Russian warship was ordered to “fuck you”—and then reconquered a country in the first months of conflict with Russia shattered the myth of the invader’s superiority.
And today, because of the winds of winter, it is still in the hands of the Ukrainians – a piece of rock that has both symbolic and strategic significance.
The CNN team became the first foreign media to visit the island since its recovery in June and speak with the head of the operation that led to its launch.
Snake Island, also known as Zmini Island, is a few acres of rock and grass, treeless and difficult to access, about 30 miles off the coast of Ukraine, near its maritime border with Romania.
Getting there proves challenging: an hour of jumping from wave to wave in a small boat, engulfed in mist, in sub-zero temperatures. The Black Sea can be rough, as can its dangerous coastline. On the way back our boat got stuck on a sand bar, and it took six hours before we were transferred, one by one, to another ship in the dark.
Snake Island is now a desolate place, strewn with debris, its few buildings reduced to shells, its half-sunken pier battered by the tide. It is a graveyard of expensive military equipment – and is dotted with unexploded ordnance and mines. This is not a place for neglect.
The CNN team saw at least four different types of land mines, Russian Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems and the untouched Tor anti-aircraft complex. The corpse of a Russian military helicopter was also hit.
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