Ukraine’s Mariupol defenders, Putin ally in prisoner swap

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

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

Russian officers didn’t instantly affirm or in any other case touch upon what gave the impression to be the most important prisoner swap throughout the almost seven-month warfare.

Of the whole, 200 Ukrainians have 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 fees of treason and aiding and abetting a terrorist group for mediating coal purchases for the separatist, Russia-backed Donetsk republic in jap Ukraine.

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

Medvedchuk is the top of the political council of Ukraine’s pro-Russian Opposition Platform-For Life celebration, the most important opposition group in Ukraine’s parliament. The Ukrainian authorities has suspended the celebration’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 mentioned in his nightly video speech. “He has handed all of the investigative actions offered by legislation. Ukraine has obtained from him every thing essential to ascertain 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 change for 55 Russian prisoners it was holding, Zelenskyy mentioned.

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 an almost three-month siege of the port metropolis of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy mentioned 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, underneath the safety of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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

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.

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

The BBC reported that the 2 males, together with a 3rd British detainee, John Harding, have arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It mentioned they gave the impression to be accompanied by a gaggle of Saudi officers.

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

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 against the law, worsen than a mistake, it’s simply sheer stupidity or sabotage.”

___ Related Press author Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

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