Russia and Ukraine carried out an unexpected prisoner exchange on Wednesday, involving almost 215 Ukrainians, including many Azovstal defenders, widely regarded as national heroes, as well as 10 foreigners. This was the largest POW swap since Russia started its invasion.
The timing and magnitude of the swap came as a surprise, given that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had announced a partial troop mobilisation earlier in the day in an apparent escalation of the conflict.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the swap, which involved help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had been under preparation for a long time and involved intense haggling.
⚡️⚡️Commanders of the Azovstal defense, including Denys Prokopenko, the head of the Azov regiment, deputy commander Svyatoslav Palamar and marine commander Serhiy Volynsky, were among the 215 people released from Russian captivity in a massive prisoner exchange on Sept. 21. pic.twitter.com/EmKzuongWT— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 21, 2022
In exchange, Ukraine sent back 55 Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians and Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of a banned pro-Russian party who was facing treason charges.
President @ZelenskyyUa set a clear task: to get our POW heroes back from RF. The result: our heroes are free.— Andriy Yermak (@AndriyYermak) September 21, 2022
There was a large exchange of prisoners. We got 215 people from RF captivity. Among them are commanders, defenders of "Azovstal" and pregnant military women. pic.twitter.com/6za43fwBay
The foreigners released included five Britons, two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croatian and a Swedish national.
⚡️⚡️10 foreigners released from Russian captivity in prisoner swap.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 21, 2022
Some of them had been sentenced to death by Russian proxies in Ukraine's east. The prisoner exchange was brokered by Saudi Arabia, where the liberated POWs were delivered on Sept. 21.
📷Saudi Press Agency pic.twitter.com/ttHq68LPnr
A large number of foreigners have travelled to Ukraine to fight since Russia’s February 24 invasion.
YPG veterans John Harding, Shaun Pinner, and Aiden Aslin seeming to be in high spirits on their flight from Russia to Saudi Arabia. pic.twitter.com/oXYrrnCKFr— Bo Warren (@Bo_Warren) September 21, 2022