200 Ukrainian fighters free in exchange, including Azov battalion leaders

NOS Newstoday, 06:35Amended today, 09:14

Russia has released captured Ukrainian fighters from the Azov battalion in a prisoner swap, President Zelensky reports. This includes the commander and his deputy and another more than a hundred members of the battalion.

Dozens of other people have also been released. In total there are 215 Ukrainians. Among them are agents, border guards, soldiers and pregnant fighters. Ten foreigners have also been released, including five British. They arrived safely at London’s Heathrow Airport around noon, the BBC reports.

Zelensky addressed the fighters via video link:

Zelensky to released Ukrainian fighters: ‘We are very proud’

The release is the result of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia with help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It is the largest prisoner exchange since the beginning of the war.

Medvedchuk

Ukraine has handed over Viktor Medvedchuk to Russia to free them. He is a Ukrainian businessman who is good friends with President Putin. He was also a member of parliament, but served Putin’s interests. He was therefore detained by Ukraine at the beginning of the war. He was charged with treason.

AFP

Viktor Medvedchuk after his arrest

54 other people have also been returned to Russia by Ukraine. According to The New York Times, these are pilots and senior Russian military officers.

Badly fallen

The news of the release of the top officers and more than a hundred Azov members will not go down well in Russia,

of the journalistic research collective Bellingcat. “Ultra-nationalists and mercenaries, momentarily reassured by the mobilization, are having a heart attack when they learn that Putin has also traded Azov commanders and dozens of other Azov members for Medvedchuk, someone they despise.”

The Russian Supreme Court declared the Azov battalion a terrorist organization last month. Members can therefore receive twenty years in prison in Russia, commanders possibly even life.

On Russian social media, someone wrote: “I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard about the exchange of the Azov bastards, and then also for Medvedchuk. This is a disastrous shame. When will this madness end.” Others wonder why the Ukrainian POWs are received as heroes, but the Russian POWs are not even mentioned by name.

Mariupol

Part of the exchange is that five Azov commanders must remain in Turkey until the end of the war.

The Azov Battalion started in 2014 as a civilian nationalist militia fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, but was later integrated into the official armed forces of Ukraine. Many early members expressed far-right or Nazi sympathies, a fact used by Russia to portray the war in Ukraine as a “battle against the Nazis.”

In the current war, the battalion was mainly involved in the tenacious defense of the port city of Mariupol, which fell to Russia after three months.

Nieuwsuur made this report about the Azov battalion in March:

Russia calls the Azov battalion Nazis, but what do they say themselves?


The article is in Dutch

Tags: Ukrainian fighters free exchange including Azov battalion leaders

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