Russia-Ukraine crisis: Kyiv announces exchange of 215 prisoners of war in biggest swap since fighting began

Released prisoners will remain in Turkey 'in total security, and in comfortable conditions' until the end of the crisis,' said Zelensky



Photos: Reuters
Photos: Reuters

By AFP

Published: Thu 22 Sep 2022, 6:43 AM

Last updated: Thu 22 Sep 2022, 6:56 AM

On Wednesday, Ukraine announced the exchange of a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia — including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks, that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance.

Russia received 55 prisoners including Viktor Medvedchuk — a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin accused of high treason — Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address.

This swap is the biggest exchange between the warring sides, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine tensions in February.

Earlier on Wednesday, ten prisoners of war from various countries, including the United States and Britain, were transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv, Zelensky said.

"We have managed to liberate 215 people," Ukraine's presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak announced on television.

Zelensky said that five military commanders — including leaders of the defence of Azovstal — were taken to Turkey as part of an operation prepared well in advance, and agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The released prisoners will remain in Turkey "in total security, and in comfortable conditions" until the end of the crisis, Zelensky added.

The prisoners of war transferred to Saudi Arabia comprised five British nationals, two Americans, and one each from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia, according to a Saudi official briefed on the operation.

A Saudi statement said they had arrived in the kingdom from Russia, and that the Saudi authorities were "facilitating procedures for their safe return to their respective countries".

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British Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Twitter that the release of the Britons was "hugely welcome news ... ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families".

Truss added that they had been "held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine", and thanked Zelensky and Saudi Arabia for helping free them.

Photo: @trussliz/Twitter
Photo: @trussliz/Twitter

MP Robert Jenrick, on Twitter, identified one of the British detainees as "my constituent" Aiden Aslin, who had been sentenced to death in June, as an alleged mercenary after being captured by pro-Russian separatists.

Jenrick said the British detainees were "on their way back to the UK" and that Aslin's family "could finally be at peace".

Photo: @RobertJenrik/Twitter
Photo: @RobertJenrik/Twitter

The White House thanked Zelensky and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for facilitating the exchange.

"We look forward to our citizens being reunited with their families," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Twitter.

Photo: @JakeSullivan46/Twitter
Photo: @JakeSullivan46/Twitter

The Moroccan detainee is Brahim Saadoun, who was also sentenced to death in June by the unrecognised Donetsk People's Republic, according to a Moroccan official at the embassy in Riyadh.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Twitter that the Swedish citizen, also held in Donetsk, "has now been exchanged and is well". She also thanked Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.

Photo: @AnnLinde/Twitter
Photo: @AnnLinde/Twitter

In Zagreb, the foreign ministry named the released Croat as Vjekoslav Prebeg, detained in April, and said that he would return on Thursday, thanking Kyiv and Riyadh.

The releases came following efforts by Prince Mohammed, "in continuation of [his] commitment to the humanitarian initiatives towards the Russian-Ukrainian crisis", the Saudi statement said.

A video broadcast by the official Saudi Press Agency showed the 10 prisoners of war being greeted by Saudi officials, as they descended from a plane in Riyadh, then being escorted into a room where they chatted with diplomats from their respective embassies.


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