Two of 300 British fighters freed in sudden prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine sentenced to death

Russia and Ukraine engaged in a surprise prisoner-of-war exchange on Wednesday, the largest since the war began, involving nearly 300 people, including 10 foreigners and those who led Ukraine’s long-running defense of Mariupol earlier this year ‘s commander.

The freed foreigners included two Britons and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death in June after being caught fighting for Ukraine. Three other Britons, two Americans, a Croat and a Swedish national were also released.

The timing and scale of the exchange came as a surprise, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of troops earlier in the day, apparently escalating the conflict that began in February. Pro-Russian separatists also said last month that the Mariupol commander would stand trial.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the exchange of help involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia had been in preparation for a long time and involved intense bargaining. Under the terms of the agreement, 215 Ukrainians were released – most of them arrested after the fall of Mariupol.

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Kateryna Polishchuk, a Ukrainian defender of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, speaks on her cell phone after the exchange of prisoners of war.Reuters

In exchange, Ukraine repatriated 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians as well as Viktor Medvechuk, the leader of the banned pro-Russian political party facing treason charges.

“This is clearly a victory for our country, for our society as a whole,” Zelensky said in a video address. “The most important thing is that 215 families can safely see their loved ones at home.”

“We remember all our peoples and work to save every Ukrainian. That’s what Ukraine is, who we are, that’s what separates us from the enemy.”

Zelensky thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his help and said five senior Ukrainian commanders would remain in Turkey until the end of the war.

He said Kyiv had fought a long and difficult battle to secure the release of the five.

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Prisoners of war arrive at the site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after an exchange during Russia’s attack on Ukraine, this is a screenshot taken from a handout video.Reuters

They included Lieutenant Colonel Denis Prokopenko, the Azov battalion commander, who was in charge of most of the fighting, and his deputy, Sviatoslav Paramar. 36th Marine Brigade Commander Serhiy Volynsky was also released.

The trio helped lead a weeks-long stubborn resistance in bunkers and tunnels beneath Mariupol’s giant steel mill before they and hundreds of Azov fighters surrendered to Russian-backed forces in May.

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Prisoners of war arrive at the site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after an exchange during Russia’s attack on Ukraine, this is a screenshot taken from a handout video.Reuters

“We’re proud of what you’ve done for our country and each of you,” Zelensky said in a video call with the five released from his office.

Moscow had no immediate comment on the deal and why it released someone the Russian-backed separatists said would stand trial later this year.

Saudi Arabia brokered an arrangement to fly the 10 foreigners to Saudi Arabia. The mediation involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who maintains close ties with Putin.

The freed prisoners included Alexander Drueke, 39, a U.S. citizen from Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, who were arrested in June while fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Britons Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun were also released, all being held by a family calling themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic The court sentenced to death.

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, large numbers of foreigners have traveled to Ukraine to fight.

The head of the U.N. human rights mission in Ukraine said earlier this month that Russia would not allow access to prisoners of war, adding that the U.N. had evidence that some had been tortured and ill-treated in what could amount to war crimes.

Russia denies torture or other ill-treatment of prisoners of war.

In a taped speech to the United Nations last night, Zelensky asked the UN special court to impose “just punishment” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including financial penalties and the removal of Moscow’s veto power in the Security Council.

Ireland’s term on the Security Council ends in December, and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney will speak with fellow members today about his recent visit to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Michael Martin’s planned meeting with Joe Biden was thrown into doubt after the Irish prime minister’s flight was forced to return yesterday, delaying his arrival in New York.

Ahead of Zelensky’s address to world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Moscow’s first wartime mobilization since World War II and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend what he said was an East-West conflict. Russia.

Moscow plans to call in some 300,000 soldiers in a marked escalation of its invasion of Ukraine that began in February, killing thousands, displacing millions and razing towns to the ground.

Russia’s mobilization may be the riskiest domestic political move in Putin’s two decades in power, and Russia is facing a series of battlefield defeats after months of promises by the Kremlin not to do such a thing.

Fears of being drafted into the military led to a rapid sell-out of flights from Russia, with jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny calling for mass demonstrations against the mobilization.

Nearly 1,400 people had been detained during protests in 38 Russian cities as of Wednesday night, the independent protest monitoring group OVD-Info said.

Zelensky listed what he said were five non-negotiable peace terms. These include punishment for Russian aggression, restoration of Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity, and security guarantees.

“A crime was committed against Ukraine and we demand just punishment,” Zelensky told the UN agency.

Many UN delegates ended Zelensky’s speech with a standing ovation.

Putin, who ordered the draft in a televised speech, also announced the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia, declaring: “This is not a bluff.”

U.S. President Joe Biden responded in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly: “Just today, President Putin once again made an overt nuclear threat to Europe, recklessly disregarding the responsibilities of the non-proliferation regime.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned Putin’s “irresponsible escalation of the war”, saying “Putin’s actions only show that his invasion has failed”.

EU foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to prepare new sanctions on Russia and increase arms supplies to Kyiv.

“It is clear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Jose Puborrell told reporters after ministers met to decide how to respond.

Foreign ministers from the G7 advanced economies confirmed at a meeting in New York on Wednesday that they would work together to expand support for Ukraine, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

Several Western military experts said the call-up of hundreds of thousands of recruits would take months, would do little to slow Russia’s losses, and could even make matters worse by taking resources from the battlefield to train and equip new recruits.

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Video footage shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivering a recorded speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.Reuters

The war appears to have gained popular support in Russia so far, with independent media shut down and public criticism of “special military operations” banned.

But for many ordinary Russians, especially the urban middle class, the prospect of being sent to war would be the first sign that the war was affecting them personally.

On the Moscow subway, men can be seen studying call-up papers.

“At times like this, you’re always worried. Because you have a wife and kids, and you think about that,” one resident said.

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