Russia and Ukraine make biggest prisoner swap since war began

The operation was a surprise and involved 215 Ukrainian soldiers, including defense commanders at the Azovstal steel plant, and 55 Russians.

Saudi Press Agency/Disclosure via REUTERSPrisoners of war who left Russia

Russia and Ukraine made the biggest prisoner exchange since the start of the conflict in Eastern Europe. A total of 215 Ukrainian soldiers and 55 Russians were involved in the operation carried out this Thursday, 22. “All the soldiers arrived in the territory of the Russian Federation in military planes and were taken to medical facilities of the ministry”, says a statement from the government. A former Ukrainian deputy, Viktor Medvedchuk, close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putinwas released in the exchange of prisoners between Kiev and Moscow. He had been detained in mid-April by the Ukrainian special service on charges of high treason. The Russian military involved in the exchange “has been able to get in touch with their relatives”, the Russian ministry said, before indicating that those released receive the “necessary psychological and medical assistance”. The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky celebrated the liberated commanders and hailed them as “superheroes”. “Five superheroes have been exchanged for 55 of those who deserve neither compassion nor pity,” Zelenskiy said in an evening speech that hailed the broader liberation as “a victory for the country.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Turkey helped broker the exchange. Ten foreigners were also freed after mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties to Russian President Putin. The timing and size of the exchange came as a surprise, as the mood between the two countries remains hot, especially after the Russian leader announced a partial deployment of troops in Russia in an apparent escalation of the conflict that began in February. The Russian army also again accused the Ukrainian government of “continuing with its provocations to create a threat of catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant”, the largest in Europe. “On Wednesday, Ukrainian artillery fired 13 howitzers into the town of Energodar (where the plant is located) and the land adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. According to the ministry, “the radiological situation” at the site is “normal”. Russia and Ukraine have been exchanging accusations for several months over attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant and its surroundings.

Ukrainian soldier Mykhailo Dianov who was in Azovstal in eastern Mariupol released during the prisoner exchange │HANDOUT / AZOV SPECIAL FORCES REGIMENT OF THE UKRAINIAN NATIONAL GUARD PRESS OFFICE / SECURITY SERVICE OF UKRAINE / AFP

*With information from AFP and Reuters

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