Ukraine and Russia exchange POWs

Photo: Anadolu Agency/ GettyImages

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.

This is clearly a victory for our country, for our entire society. And the main thing is that 215 families can see their loved ones safe and at home,” the Ukrainian president said in a video address. “We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian,” he added.

Zelenskyy also thanked Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for his help and said five senior Ukrainian commanders would remain in Turkey until the end of the war.

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.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow about the deal and why it had freed men who Russian-backed separatists said would go on trial later this year.

Foreign POWs


Saudi Arabia brokered an arrangement whereby the 10 foreigners were flown to Saudi Arabia. The mediation involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has maintained close ties with Putin.

The foreigners released included five Britons, two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croatian and a Swedish national.

The freed US citizens were Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, both from Alabama, who were captured in June while fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The released Britons included Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were all sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

A large number of foreigners have travelled to Ukraine to fight since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

Russian POW treatment


The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine said earlier this month that Russia was not allowing access to prisoners of war, adding that the UN had evidence that some POWs had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment that could amount to war crimes.

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