Russia, Ukraine announce major surprise prisoner swap

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Kyiv/RIYADH, Sept 21 (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine held a surprise prisoner-of-war exchange on Wednesday, the largest since the war began, involving nearly 300 people, including 10 foreigners man and the commander who led Ukraine’s long-term defense of Mariupol earlier this year.

The freed foreigners included two Britons and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death in June after being caught fighting for Ukraine. There were three other Britons, two Americans, a Croat and a Swedish national on Friday.

The timing and scale of the exchange came as a surprise, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of troops earlier in the day, apparently escalating the conflict that began in February. Pro-Russian separatists also said last month that the Mariupol commander would stand more

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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said an exchange involving help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia had been in preparation for a long time and involved intense bargaining. Under the terms of the agreement, 215 Ukrainians were released – most of them arrested after the fall of Mariupol.

In exchange, Ukraine repatriated 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians as well as Viktor Medvechuk, the leader of the banned pro-Russian political party facing treason charges.

“This is clearly a victory for our country, for our society as a whole,” Zelensky said in a video address. “The most important thing is that 215 families can safely see their loved ones at home.”

“We remember all our peoples and work to save every Ukrainian. That’s what Ukraine is, who we are, that’s what separates us from the enemy.”

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

He said Kyiv had fought a long and difficult battle to secure the release of the five.

They included Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko, the Azov battalion commander, who was in charge of most of the fighting, and his deputy, Sviatoslav Paramar. Also Friday, Commander Serhiy Volynsky of the 36th Marine Brigade.

The trio helped lead a weeks-long stubborn resistance in bunkers and tunnels beneath Mariupol’s giant steel mill before they and hundreds of Azov fighters surrendered to Russian-backed forces in May.

“We’re proud of what you’ve done for our country and each of you,” Zelensky said in a video call with the five released from his office.

Moscow had no immediate comment on the deal and why it released someone the Russian-backed separatists said would stand trial later this year.

Saudi Arabia brokered an arrangement to fly the 10 foreigners to Saudi Arabia. The mediation involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who maintains close ties with Putin.

The freed prisoners included Alexander Drueke, 39, a U.S. citizen from Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, who were arrested in June while fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Also on Friday, Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun were both named as members of the Donetsk People’s Republic. A court sentenced to death.

Large numbers of foreigners have traveled to Ukraine to fight in Russia since February 2. 24 Invasion.

The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine said earlier this month that Russia would not allow access to prisoners of war, adding that the UN had evidence that some had been tortured and ill-treated in what could amount to war more

Russia denies torture or other ill-treatment of prisoners of war.

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Rosalba O’Brien, reporting editors for Valentyn Ogirenko in Kyiv, Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh and David Ljunggren in Ottawa

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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