Moscow — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman mediated the greatest prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. Nearly 300 prisoners, including 10 foreigners were released on Wednesday.
Two Britons and a Moroccan who had received a death sentence in June after being captured fighting for Ukraine were among the foreigners freed. Four further Britons, two Americans, a Croatian, and a Swedish citizen were also released.
Given the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier on the day announced a partial force mobilisation in an apparent escalation of the conflict that started in February, the timing and size of the swap surprised everyone. Separatists who support Russia had previously stated that the Mariupol commanders will face charges.
The swap which included assistance from mainly Saudi Arabia and then Turkey, had been prepared for a considerable amount of time and required hard negotiating, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. 215 Ukrainians, the most of whom were taken prisoner when Mariupol fell, were freed as per the conditions of the agreement.
Ukraine exchanged 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians and Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of a banned pro-Russian party who was facing treason charges.
Zelenskiy said, “This is clearly a victory for our country, for our entire society. And the main thing is that 215 families can see their loved ones safe and at home”.
“We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian. This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy”, he added.
However, five senior Ukrainian commanders would remain in Turkey until the end of the war. They include Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion that did much of the fighting, and his deputy, Svyatoslav Palamar. Also freed was Serhiy Volynsky, the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade.
Moscow did not immediately respond to questions regarding the agreement or the release of men whom Russian-backed separatists claimed would face trial later this year.
The 10 foreigners were flown to Saudi Arabia as a result of an agreement mediated by Saudi Arabia. Americans Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, both from Alabama, who were arrested in June during combat in eastern Ukraine, were among the released captives.
Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner as well as Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, who had all received death sentences from a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, were also released.
Since Russia’s incursion on February 24, several foreigners have traveled to Ukraine to participate in combat.
Earlier this month, the chief of the U.N. human rights mission in Ukraine claimed that Russia was preventing access to prisoners of war and that the organization had proof that some of them had experienced torture and other cruel treatment that would have constituted war crimes. However, Russia denies torturing POWs or subjecting them to other types of abuse.