About 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war returned home after the latest round of prisoner exchanges between Russia and Ukraine – the first since the deadly crash of a military plane which Russia said carried Ukrainian soldiers sparked tensions between the two nations.
As many as 207 Ukrainians were freed on Wednesday in the 50th round of prisoner exchange since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, president Volodymyr Zelensky said. The Russian Ministry of Defence, however, claimed the countries exchanged 195 PoWs each.
“Good news. The one we have been waiting for. Today, we were able to free 207 more Ukrainians from Russian captivity. 180 privates and sergeants. 27 officers. Almost half of them are Mariupol defenders,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address.
The freed Ukrainian prisoners are from its Armed Forces, National Guard, Border Guard, and National Police, Mr Zelensky said, adding that 207 Ukrainians will soon be reunited with their loved ones. “207 happy families,” he said.
“I am confident that the freed captives are already calling home to hear the most important words. I am glad our efforts are paying off. In total, 3035 Ukrainians have been returned. And we will make every effort to return each and every one. We have not forgotten about anyone,” he said.
The swap included marines and combat medics, with 36 injured or seriously ill.
Mr Zelensky also shared a video capturing the return of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and officials. The video, captioned “ours” with a flag of Ukraine, showed dozens of emotional Ukrainian servicemen singing the national anthem with their hands on their chest.
They chanted “Slava Ukraini [Glory to Ukraine] as they stepped out of the exchange vehicle at an undisclosed location. Some of them, overcome with emotion, lay on the ground, while others broke into tears.
Seeveral of the servicemen dialled their family members.
The Russian military said, without providing details or evidence, that the Russian PoWs who were swapped on Wednesday “faced deadly danger in captivity” and will be flown to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation.
A Russian military transport plane crashed in a region bordering Ukraine with Russian officials saying that all 74 people on board – including Ukrainian prisoners of war – were killed.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said that the Ilyushin Il-76 was taking part in a prisoner exchange. The ministry added there were also six crew and three Russian servicemen on the flight.
According to claims from Moscow, around 65 Ukrainian PoWs had been aboard the military transport that crashed in Belgorod. But it has not provided any credible evidence that the plane was indeed carrying Ukrainian soldiers.
Ukrainian officials said they have seen no evidence the plane was carrying the PoWs and that a swap that was due to take place that day was called off. It added that Russia offered no information on the routes to be cleared as part of arrangements to be made for the swap, as done in previous prisoner swaps.