Kyiv and Moscow have conducted a major prisoner swap, with 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters released in exchange for more than 50 Russian prisoners, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced overnight on Wednesday.
Zelenskyy lauded “215 pieces of good news,” and said, “We are bringing our people home.”
The prisoner swap included nearly 200 soldiers who defended Mariupol and its Azovstal steelworks, in exchange for 55 Russian soldiers and pro-Kremlin Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a close Putin ally.
Medvedchuk was arrested in April accused of high treason, according to Zelenskyy. An earlier attempt to exchange Medvedchuk for Ukrainian soldiers was dismissed by the Kremlin.
Five military commanders, including leaders of the Azovstal defense, were taken to Turkey as negotiated with its president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Zelenskyy said that the “superheroes” would remain in Turkey “in total security and in comfortable conditions” until the end of the war. He also thanked Erdoğan for his role in the exchange.
The 10 international prisoners included five British citizens, two U.S. foreign fighters and people from Croatia, Sweden and Morocco. The deal was conducted with the help of Saudi Arabia, and the liberated fighters were transferred to Riyadh.
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were captured while fighting with Ukrainian forces and sentenced to death in a show trial, were among the Brits released.
The prisoner exchange is the biggest swap between the two sides since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.