More than a dozen Ukrainian border guards who were awarded the title “Hero of Ukraine” after they were believed to have died while defending a small island in the Black Sea from a Russian bomb attack are actually still alive, according to the Ukrainian Navy.
“We are very happy to learn that our brothers are alive and well,” the Ukrainian Navy said in a statement posted on its official Facebook page, noting that the border guards were “taken captive by Russian occupiers on Snake Island.”
Russian forces reportedly destroyed all the infrastructure, including lighthouses, towers, and antennas on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, the statement added.
Last week, a Ukrainian official said the military lost contact with its forces on the island—a roughly 40-acre speck of land located south of the port of Odessa.
The official said at the time that 13 soldiers were killed in the bomb attack and an audio clip emerged that is purported to have captured an exchange between Ukrainian and Russian forces prior to the attack.
“This is a Russian warship. I propose you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary victims. Otherwise, you will be bombed,” the Russians said, according to the audio obtained by local news agency Ukrainskaya Pravda.
“Russian warship, go [explicit] yourself,” Ukrainian forces replied before Russia allegedly launched missiles towards the island.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his address to the nation after the first day of Russia launching its assault on the country that he would posthumously honor the group of Ukrainian border guards killed in the bombardment.
“On our Zmiinyi Island, defending it to the last, all the border guards died heroically. But they did not give up. All of them will be posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in comments on his website.
On Feb. 25, Russia’s defense ministry said 82 Ukrainian soldiers on the island had surrendered voluntarily as Russian paratroopers attempted to take control over the small island territory—which has previously been the subject of a territorial dispute between the two countries. The island is located about 185 miles west of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia annexed in 2014.
Russia had denied Ukraine’s allegations that its armed forces had killed 13 border guards on Snake Island. The Kremlin’s state-owned media later showed what it claimed was footage of the soldiers believed to have died. The Epoch Times could not independently verify the footage.
Much inaccurate information has spread surrounding the chaos brought about by the Russia-Ukraine situation, including statements released by government officials.
Reuters contributed to this report.