Editor’s note: An updated version of this story was published with new information from the Ukrainian navy reporting that the border guards are alive and prisoners of Russia.
The 13 Ukrainian border guards stationed on a rocky Black Sea landmass known as Snake Island might have known they were doomed when the Russian warship called for their surrender Thursday during the first full day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is a Russian warship,” the invaders radioed to the guards. “I propose you lay down arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary victims. Otherwise, you’ll be bombed.”
“Russian warship, go fuck yourself,” the Ukrainians responded.
Later in the day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed that the guards had “died heroically” defending the island, also known as Zmiinyi, according to a report in Ukrayinska Pravda.
According to the report, the Russians fired on the island from the ship and then hit the island with “combat aircraft.”
“Late in the evening, the State Border Service reported that communication with the border guards…was lost,” the report states.
“On our Snake Island, defending it to the last, all the border guards died heroically,” Zelenskyy said. “But they did not give in. All of them will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously. Eternal memory to those who gave their lives for Ukraine.”
The sacrifice of those on Snake Island soon became an online rallying cry for their countrymen and those worldwide who are rooting for the embattled yet still-free Ukrainians to win out against the larger, authoritarian Russian force.
One American Twitter user noted that the guards’ defiant profanity should be “put on a command crest.”
Soon, the crest was created, and the battle for Ukraine raged on.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.