Who was released in Ukraine and Russia prisoner swap?

Hundreds of prisoners of war were released on Wednesday surprise deal Those captured in Ukraine between Moscow and Kyiv included 10 foreign nationals, close friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and commanders and fighters of the Azov Regiment, a Ukrainian far-right paramilitary group.

As part of the swap, Moscow agreed to release 215 Ukrainians to foreigners as well, including more than 100 Azov members. In return, Ukraine said it had released Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 Russian and pro-Russian fighters. The imbalance in numbers, as well as the release of Azov members long portrayed by the Kremlin as “Nazis”, have led to criticism from pro-war nationalists in Russia.

However, the breadth and depth of the prisoner exchange – which was brokered with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey – drew praise from the governments of freed foreigners, many of whom were sentenced to death in territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists. .

Here’s a brief look at those who were released.

Viktor MedvedchukThe 68-year-old is a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician and a close friend of Putin. He was captured by Ukraine’s Internal Security Service in April, which said Medvedchuk had been in hiding for weeks and claimed he was going to be smuggled from Ukraine With the help of Russia. According to Kyiv, he was charged with treason last year and allegedly escaped house arrest in February, two days after the Russian invasion.

Who is the pro-Russian mogul Viktor Medvedchuk arrested in Ukraine?

Medvedchuk, a longtime Machiavellian figure in Ukrainian politics, appears to be the highest-profile prisoner secured by the Russian side, although officials in Moscow have been surprisingly silent about his role in the exchange, with both the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry running away from it. are. confirmed that he was involved.

Swamp has already faced criticism from Russian hardliners who say Russia gave away more than it gave in talks with Kyiv and critics of the Kremlin’s decision to release members of the Azov regiment They see it as a neo-Nazi threat. should be terminated.

On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that 55 Russian soldiers had returned home, but did not disclose any details of the deal. Instead there was further confirmation from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s Moscow-backed separatist leader, Denis Pushilin, who claimed credit for the prisoner exchange and argued that it was important to release Medvedchuk because of his previous role. interlocutor during the fighting years Between the Ukrainian army and the Russian-backed separatists.

“I have seen with my own eyes how, during and outside the Minsk process, more than a thousand of our people have been freed with the help of Viktor Medvedchuk, who otherwise would not have survived,” Pushilin said in a video posted. ” Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti. In evidence if Medvedchuk’s business role, he was working for Kyiv during those previous prisoner-exchange negotiations.

Alexander Drucke and Andy Tai Huinho

Two American military veterans from Alabama, Alexander J. Drucke (40) and Andy Tai Huynh (28) were released on Wednesday after being captured near the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in June.

Drucke told the family that he was teaching Ukrainian soldiers how to use American-made weapons, his mother said. previously told the Washington Post, Joy Black, who identified herself as Huynh’s fiancĂ©e, said he volunteered to fight with the Ukrainian military.

Americans freed in Russia-Ukraine prisoner exchange

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Statement, “Welcomed the news of the negotiated prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, involving two US citizens captured while serving in the Ukrainian military.” Blinken said: “We look forward to reuniting these US citizens with their families.”

Aiden Aslin, Sean Pinner, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill

Five British nationals were also released on Wednesday, the British government confirmed. He was captured at various points in the war. British Prime Minister Liz Truss It called “extremely welcome news that five British nationals held by a Russian-backed proxy in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and anguish for them and their families.” “

Aiden AslinSean Pinner, John Harding and Andrew Hill fighting with ukrainian forces when they were captured. Dylan Healy is a Support Worker Who was captured in southeastern Ukraine and allegedly accused of espionage.

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Aslin and Pinner were accused of working as foreign mercenaries. Russia-backed separatist court sentenced to death In the broken Donetsk region. A Moroccan national, Brahim Saadoun, who was sentenced to death along with the Britons, was also released on Wednesday. Harding, Hill and Healy were reportedly awaiting a verdict on the same charge.

in a video Aslin and Pinner, recorded from the plane As soon as they got back to the UK, Pinner said they were “off the skin of our teeth”.

British national Aiden Aslin posted a video on September 21 on board a plane announcing his release from Russian prison. (Video: Aiden Aslin)

31-year-old Denis Prokopenko led Azov Regiment, a right-wing paramilitary unit Whose members played a key role in saving Ukraine’s southeastern city of Mariupol from a Russian siege a week ago. surrender in May,

Prokopenko spent years fighting in the Donbass, the eastern Ukrainian region comprising Luhansk and Donetsk. He was originally a grenade launcher, then commanded a platoon and later a company. In July 2017, he was named commander of the Azov.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Prokopenko led Defense of Mariupol, as Azov soldiers hid for weeks under Russian shelling inside the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works. For his leadership role on the front lines of the conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded him the title Hero of Ukraine.

They were captured by separatist forces when they withdrew to Azovstal and were then held in a penal colony at Olenivka in Donetsk. In June, Russian media reported that the commanders of the Azov regiment had been evacuated from Donetsk to Russia for “exploratory operations”.

Prokopenko was released on Wednesday and transferred to Turkey along with four other Azov commanders, Zelensky said. They would remain “under Erdogan’s protection” until the end of the war, the Ukrainian president said in vague comments that suggested some form of house arrest. Russia’s parliament has taken steps to formally classify Azov as a terrorist organization,

Sergei Volynsky, 30, is the commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, the last remaining unit of Ukraine’s armed forces in Mariupol during the Russian siege that ended in the capture of Azovstal.

Volinsky served in Crimea when Russia Captured the Black Sea Peninsula in 2014, During and afterwards, as part of the 36th Marine Brigade, he carried out missions around Mariupol.

Last Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol pledge to fight ‘as long as we live’

In April, a unit of the 36th Brigade under his command merged with fighters from the Azov Battalion to take over an impenetrable network of underground tunnels, forming the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, the last Ukrainian in the region. served as a stronghold and was successfully diverted. Russian resource for weeks. Volinsky became the voice of the defenders of Azovstal, appealing to world leaders to save civilians and the wounded.

Volinsky and his unit surrendered on 20 May, the same day as Prokopenko and Azov fighters. He was detained by pro-Russian forces and kept in Donetsk.

In Mariupol, the echoes of history, complete devastation and one last stand

When Wolinsky was released Wednesday as part of the prisoner swap, he said, “The feelings are overwhelming. Thank you on behalf of [Armed Forces of Ukraine]Marines who defended Azovstal.”

David Stern, Dan Lamothe, Isabel Khurshudyan, Karen DeYoung, Alex Horton and Maite Fernandez Simon contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

Newest: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of troops in an address to the nation on 21 September, framing the move as an effort to defend Russian sovereignty against a West that would see Ukraine “divide Russia”. and wants to use as a tool to destroy”. “Follow us live updates here,

War: A successful Ukrainian counter-offensive has forced a major Russian withdrawal in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days, as troops occupied towns and villages from the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment. .

Annex Referendum: The staged referendum, which would be illegal under international law, is due to take place in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine from September 23 to 27, according to Russian news agencies. Another staged referendum will be held by the Moscow-appointed administration in Kherson from Friday.

Photos: The Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war. Here are some of his most powerful works,

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