Kyiv, UKRAINE (AP) — Ukraine announced a high-profile prisoner exchange early on Thursday. It is the culmination of months of efforts to free many of the Ukrainian fighters who guarded the Mariupol steelworks during the long Russian siege. In exchange, Ukraine gave up being an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Volodymr Zelenskky said his government had released 215 Ukrainians and foreigners from Russian custody. He said many were soldiers and officers who faced the death penalty in Russian-occupied territories.
Russian officials did not immediately confirm or comment on the exchange.
Of the total, 200 Ukrainians were exchanged for just one man — pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvechuk is Ukrainian. The 68-year-old oligarch escaped house arrest in Ukraine days before Russia’s invasion on February 24, but was arrested again in April. He faced life imprisonment for treason and for supporting and abetting a terrorist organization that brokered coal purchases for the separatist, Russian-backed Donetsk Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Putin is believed to be the godfather of Medvechuk’s youngest daughter. His detention sparked heated exchanges between officials in Moscow and Kyiv. He is chairman of the political council of the pro-Russian opposition Platform for Life party in Ukraine. The government suspended the party’s activities.
“It is a pity to give up Medvechuk for the sake of a real warrior,” Zelensky said in a post on his website. I received from him everything I needed to prove the truth within the framework of criminal proceedings.”
In another swap, Ukraine released five more civilians in exchange for the 55 Russian prisoners it was holding, Zelensky said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the exchange, saying it was “no small feat”. The UN Secretary-General has reiterated the need to respect international law on the treatment of prisoners and will continue to further support the exchange of prisoners, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
According to Zelensky, many of the liberated belonged to the Ukrainian Azov regiment, who Zelensky called them heroes. More than 2,000 garrisons, many of them Azov troops, marched from the twisted wreckage of the Azovstal Ironworks to Russian prisoners of war in mid-May, nearly ending his three-month-long siege of the port city of Mariupol. . Five of his released Azov commanders now live in Turkey, according to a post on Zelensky’s website.
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