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Slain Ukrainian guards deemed heroes for defiant stand on Snake Island

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A group of 13 Ukrainian border guards killed by Russian forces after defending a remote island in the Black Sea will receive the honorary title of "Hero of Ukraine," President Volodymyr Zelensky announced.

The guards earned Zelensky and the world's attention for their remarkably defiant response to the Russian military's demand that they give up their post on Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island.

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Audio of the Thursday exchange was released by Ukrainian news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda and confirmed by Ukrainian defense officials to The Washington Post.

"I am a Russian warship," a Russian service member can be heard saying on the recording. "I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths. Otherwise, you will be bombed."

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The Ukrainians responded: "Russian warship, go f--- yourself."

The Russian ship then bombed the rocky island, killing the border guards.

In an televised address Thursday, Zelensky hailed the guards for refusing to surrender.

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"All border guards died heroically but did not give up," he said.

Zelensky said each of the service members would be posthumously awarded the title of "Hero of Ukraine," the highest honorific possible in the country.

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The State Border Border Service said the island's infrastructure was destroyed by shelling from the Russian warships Moskva and Vasily Bykov.

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The Guardian reported the island, which is home to a marine research station, has been the subject of a territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine. It's located about 23 miles due east of the Ukrainian coast, where it shares a border with Romania.

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday after months of tensions over the latter's possible membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At the end of the first day of fighting, Zelensky said at least 137 Ukrainians, including military personnel and civilians, were killed.

"They kill people and turn peaceful cities into military targets," he said, refuting the Kremlin's claim that only military sites were being attacked. "This is vile and will never be forgiven."

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