An entire garrison of 13 Ukrainian border guards was killed in the first day of fighting on the nation’s Snake Island after the soldiers refused to surrender to invading Russian forces, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy said in an address that the guards had attempted to protect the island, resisting demands from Russian forces to lay down their arms. Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, posted audio to Facebook in which Russian forces can be heard telling the soldiers to surrender and “avoid bloodshed,” according to a translation by The Washington Post.
The garrison refused and were all killed in an artillery strike.
Zelenskyy said the 13 soldiers would be honored posthumously with the Hero of Ukraine award.
Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, is about 30 miles off the coast of Ukraine and is less than 42 acres. The Post noted that the island marks the edge of Ukraine’s territorial waters and serves as a strategic post in the Black Sea.
Zelenskyy said at least 137 people have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion and hundreds had been wounded. That tally was expected to climb as Russian forces closed in on the capital, Kyiv, and Zelenskyy said in his address that “the fate of the country depends fully on our army, security forces, all of our defenders.”