Russia and Ukraine announce unexpected major prisoner swap

By Valentyn Ogirenko and Aziz El Yaakoubi

KIEV/RIAD (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine carried out an unexpected prisoner exchange on Wednesday, the biggest since the start of the war, involving nearly 300 people, including 10 foreigners and the commanders who led the city’s long-running Ukrainian defense campaign. from Mariupol earlier this year.

The freed foreigners include two Britons and a Moroccan who had been sentenced to death in June after being captured fighting for Ukraine. Three other Britons, two Americans, a Croatian and a Swede were also released.

The timing and magnitude of the exchange came as a surprise, as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial deployment of troops earlier in the day, in an apparent escalation of the conflict that began in February. Pro-Russian separatists also said last month that Mariupol commanders would stand trial.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the exchange – which involved aid from Turkey and Saudi Arabia – had been in the works for a long time and involved intense negotiation. Under the terms of the deal, 215 Ukrainians – most of whom were captured after the fall of Mariupol – were released.

In return, Ukraine sent back 55 pro-Moscow Russians and Ukrainians, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of a banned pro-Russian party who faced treason charges.

“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,” Zelenskiy said in a video speech.

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