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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen July 12, 2022

Claims that Russia bombed Ukraine’s Snake Island have not been independently verified

If Your Time is short

  • Russia withdrew its troops from Snake Island on June 30 following a string of attacks on the island by Ukraine’s military. 
  • The Russian military characterized the withdrawal as a "gesture of goodwill."
  • The Ukrainian government claimed Russia bombed the island, which lies off the Ukrainian coast, following its troop withdrawal, but the attack has not been independently verified.

Russia’s losses throughout the invasion of Ukraine have been characterized as humiliating defeats for the country, and a Facebook video suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the bombing of Snake Island in the Black Sea following the retreat of Russian forces from the territory. 

Ukraine has been striking the island to eliminate Russian outposts; news outlets reported that Russian forces left after Ukraine said it bombarded the island with artillery.

"EXTREMELY TERRIBLE," the July 2 post says. "PUTIN humiliatingly blows up all weapons and facilities of the Russian Army after being defeated."

A video with the post claims Putin was unwilling to see "tens of hundreds of dollars" of military equipment left behind by Russian forces land in the hands of Ukrainians, and sent warplanes to drop phosphorus bombs on the island.

"A humiliating setback for the Russian military, Putin was pushed to the brink when no one could save the Russian army on Snake Island," the video said.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Snake Island, though occupying just 0.06 square miles (42 acres), has played a significant role during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The island, also called Serpent Island or Zmiinyi Island, is around 22 miles off the coast of both Ukraine and Romania, which is a NATO member.  

It became the site of a conflict early in the invasion on Feb. 24 when a group of Ukrainian soldiers stationed on the island refused to surrender to a Russian warship.

The Ukrainian soldiers were fired upon by the Russians and eventually turned themselves over to the warship because they lacked ammunition to continue their defense.

The takeover of Snake Island by Russian forces effectively led to a naval blockade on Ukraine and prevented the export of wheat and corn from the country.

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Both Ukraine and Russia are considered Europe's breadbasket, accounting for 30% of the world's wheat exports and 20% of corn exports. The invasion halted those exports, through the blockade against Ukraine and trade sanctions placed against Russia.  

Snake Island remained under Russian control until June 30, when the country’s defense ministry announced it was withdrawing troops from the area as a "gesture of goodwill" following increasing attacks on the island from Ukrainian troops.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, went on the messaging service Telegram to accuse the Russians of dropping phosphorus bombs on the island at 6 p.m. July 1, a day after the withdrawal.

"Today at around 18:00 ... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island" Zaluzhnyy said, using the Ukrainian name for the island.

The Ukrainian government shared black-and-white footage reportedly showing the island being bombed by Russian planes.

Media outlets reporting on the bombing have been unable to confirm the veracity of the video or the attack. The Russian government has not commented.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukraine defense minister, told The New York Times the bombing footage looked weird, as it appeared most of the shots missed destroying anything of value on the island. That’s a far cry from the Facebook post's claim that "all weapons and facilities" were blown up. 

The Ukrainian government has previously accused Russian troops of using white phosphorus bombs, which can cause severe, long-lasting skin burns. Instances in which Ukraine has claimed Russia used white phosphorus bombs have not been independently verified.  

Our ruling

A Facebook post claims Russia used white phosphorus bombs on Snake Island off the Ukrainian coast after withdrawing troops from the area. The post said the attack was intended to destroy all Russian military weapons and facilities that were left behind.

The Ukrainian military announced the attack and provided footage apparently showing the island being bombed, but the footage has not been independently verified and Russia has not responded to the accusation.

A preliminary analysis of the video found the attack didn’t destroy much of anything on the island. 

Because Russian troops did withdraw from the island, we rate this claim Mostly False.

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Claims that Russia bombed Ukraine’s Snake Island have not been independently verified

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