Who was released during the Ukrainian-Russian prisoner exchange?

Ten foreign nationals imprisoned in Ukraine, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and commanders and fighters of Ukraine’s far-right paramilitary Azov Regiment were freed in a surprise deal between Moscow and Kiev on Wednesday, among hundreds of prisoners of war.

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

However, the scale and depth of the prisoner exchange, organized with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, was praised by the governments of the freed foreigners, several of whom had been sentenced to death in the territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

Here is a brief overview of those who were released.

Viktor Medvedchuk, 68, is a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician and a close friend of Putin. Ukraine’s Internal Security Service captured him in April, reporting that Medvedchuk had been in hiding for weeks and claiming he was being extradited from Ukraine with Russian help. According to Kiev, he was charged with treason last year and reportedly escaped house arrest in February, two days after the Russian invasion.

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Medvedchuk, a long-time Machiavellian figure in Ukrainian politics, appears to be the highest-profile prisoner the Russian side has secured, although Moscow officials have been surprisingly quiet about his role in the exchange, with both the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry avoiding it. confirming that he is involved.

The swap has already drawn criticism from Russian hardliners, who say Russia gave up more than it got in negotiations with Kiev and are critical of the Kremlin’s decision to release members of the Azov Battalion, who they see as a neo-Nazi threat. should be eliminated.

Russia’s Defense Ministry acknowledged Thursday that 55 Russian soldiers had returned home, but did not disclose details of the deal. Instead, further confirmation came from Deniss Pushilin, the leader of the Moscow-backed separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, who claimed credit for the prisoner exchange and said Medvedchuk’s release was important because of his previous role as a negotiator during the years of fighting. Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.

“I have seen with my own eyes how during and outside the Minsk process, with the help of Viktor Medvedchuk, more than 1,000 of our men have been freed who otherwise would not have survived,” Pushilin said in a video posted by Russia’s state news outlet RIA Novosti. To prove Medvedchuk’s mercurial role, he worked during previous prisoner exchange negotiations in Kyiv.

Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh

Alexander J. Drueke, 40, and Andy Tai Huynh, 28, two U.S. military veterans from Alabama, were released Wednesday after being captured in June near the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Drueke had told the family he was teaching Ukrainian soldiers to use American-made weapons, his mother previously told The Washington Post. Joy Black, who identified herself as Huynh’s fiancee, said she had volunteered alongside Ukrainian forces.

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In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the news of a “negotiated prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia involving two US citizens who were captured while serving in the Ukrainian military.” Blinken said: “We look forward to these US citizens being reunited with their families.”

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

Five British nationals were also released on Wednesday, the British government confirmed. They had been captured at various points in the war. British Prime Minister Liz Truss called it “very welcome news that five British nationals held by a Russian-backed proxy in eastern Ukraine will be returned safely, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.”

Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, John Harding and Andrew Hill were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces when they were captured. Dylan Healy is an aid worker captured in southeast Ukraine, allegedly accused of spying.

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Aslin and Pinner were charged with acting as foreign mercenaries and sentenced to death by a Russian-backed separatist court in the breakaway Donetsk region. Moroccan citizen Brahim Saadoun, who was sentenced to death along with the British, was also released on Wednesday. Harding, Hill and Healy were reportedly awaiting trial on the same charge.

In a video recorded by Aslin and Pinner from the plane as they headed back to the UK, Pinner said they got out “by the skin of our teeth”.

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

Denis Prokopenko, 31, heads the right-wing paramilitary Azov Regiment, whose members played a key role in defending the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol from a weeks-long Russian siege before capitulating in May.

Prokopenko spent years fighting in the Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine that includes Lugansk and Donetsk. He was originally a grenade launcher, then he took command of a platoon and later a company. In July 2017, he was appointed commander of Azov.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Prokopenko led the defense of Mariupol as Azov soldiers spent weeks under Russian fire at the Azovstal iron and steel plant. For his leading role on the front lines of the conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded him the title of Hero of Ukraine.

He was captured by separatist forces during the recapture of Azovstal and then held in a correctional colony in Olenivka, Donetsk. In June, Russian media reported that the commanders of the Azov battalion were transferred from Donetsk to Russia for “investigative operations.”

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

Sergei Volynskyi, 30, is the commander of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, the last unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Mariupol during the Russian siege that ended with the capture of Azovstal.

Volynski was serving in Crimea when Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in 2014. At that time and after, he performed missions in the vicinity of Mariupol as part of the 36th Marine Brigade.

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In April, a unit of the 36th Brigade under his command joined forces with fighters from the Azov Battalion to take over the impenetrable network of underground tunnels that formed the Azovstal Iron and Steel Plant, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the region that was successfully diverted. Russian resources for weeks. Volynsk became the voice of the defenders of Azovstal, who appealed to world leaders to save civilians and the wounded in their ranks.

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

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When Volynski was released as part of a prisoner exchange on Wednesday, he said: “Emotions are overwhelming. Thank you for that [Armed Forces of Ukraine]marines who defended Azovstal.

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

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

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