Ukraine’s Mariupol defenders, Putin ally in prisoner swap

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine introduced a high-profile prisoner swap early Thursday that was the fruits of months of efforts to free lots of the Ukrainian fighters who defended a metal plant in Mariupol throughout a protracted Russian siege. In trade, Ukraine gave up a distinguished ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and 55 different prisoners.

President Volodymr Zelenskyy stated his authorities had received freedom from Russian custody for 215 Ukrainian and international residents, with the assistance of Turkish and Saudi mediation efforts. He stated many had been troopers and officers who had confronted the demise penalty in Russian-occupied territory.

Russian officers confirmed what seemed to be the largest prisoner swap of the practically seven-month warfare.

Of the whole, 200 Ukrainians had been exchanged for only one man — pro-Russian opposition chief Viktor Medvedchuk, who’s Ukrainian. The 68-year-old oligarch escaped from home arrest in Ukraine a number of days earlier than Russia’s invasion Feb. 24 however was recaptured in April. He confronted as much as life in jail on costs of treason and aiding and abetting a terrorist group for mediating coal purchases for the separatist, Russia-backed Donetsk republic in japanese Ukraine.

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Medvedchuk got here to know Putin whereas serving as chief of workers for former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The Russian chief is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. His detention sparked a heated trade between officers in Moscow and Kyiv.

Medvedchuk is the pinnacle of the political council of Ukraine’s pro-Russian Opposition Platform-For Life get together, the most important opposition group in Ukraine’s parliament. The Ukrainian authorities has suspended the get together’s exercise; Putin has repeatedly spoken about Medvedchuk as a sufferer of political repression.

“It’s not a pity to surrender Medvedchuk for actual warriors,” Zelenskyy stated in his nightly video speech. “He has handed all of the investigative actions supplied by regulation. Ukraine has acquired from him every little thing mandatory to determine the reality within the framework of legal proceedings.”

In one other swap, Ukraine gained the discharge of 5 commanders who led Ukraine’s protection of the Azovstal metal plant in Mariupol in trade for 55 Russian prisoners it was holding, Zelenskyy stated.

Greater than 2,000 defenders, many within the Azov Regiment, marched out of the Azovstal metal plant’s twisted wreckage into Russian captivity in mid-Could, ending a virtually three-month siege of the port metropolis of Mariupol.

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Ukraine’s army intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, informed reporters in Kyiv that a lot of the prisoners freed by Russia had been “roughly in an OK state bodily, aside from meals malnutrition associated to the unhealthy detention situations.” He stated some prisoners had been tortured however didn’t give any particulars.

Zelenskyy stated the 5 leaders, together with Azov Regiment commanders Denys Prokopenko and Svyatoslav Palamar, are in Turkey, the place they are going to stay as a part of the deal “in full security” till the tip of the warfare, below the safety of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The complicated prisoner swap additionally introduced the discharge of 10 foreigners, together with 5 British nationals and two U.S. army veterans, who had fought with Ukrainian forces. They had been launched by Russian-backed separatists as a part of an trade mediated by Saudi Arabia, U.S. and Saudi officers stated.

A video on the BBC information web site Thursday confirmed two of the launched British males, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, talking inside a aircraft.

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“We simply wish to let everybody know that we’re now out of the hazard zone and we’re on our approach dwelling to our households,” Aslin stated within the video, as Pinner added: “By the pores and skin of our tooth.”

U.N. Secretary-Normal Antonio Guterres welcomed the exchanges, calling them “no small feat,” however including that “far more stays to be accomplished to ease the struggling attributable to the warfare in Ukraine,” his spokesman stated. The U.N. chief reiterates the necessity to respect worldwide regulation on the remedy of prisoners and can proceed to assist additional prisoner exchanges, spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated.

The exchanges drew offended feedback from some nationalist commentators in Russia. Igor Strelkov, a Russian officer who led the Moscow-backed separatists within the Donbas when a battle there erupted in 2014, described the swap as an act of treason, saying that “it’s worse than a criminal offense, worsen than a mistake, it’s simply sheer stupidity or sabotage.”

——— Related Press author Sylvia Hui in London and Nicolae Dumitrache in Kyiv contributed to this report.