Five British citizens reunited with their families in London as Moscow welcomed the return of 55 liberated troops.
Five British prisoners of war have returned to the UK as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukrainewhile 55 of Moscow’s troops re-entered Russia after the deal.
Five Britons – Aiden AslinShaun Pinner, Dylan Healy, John Harding and Andrew Hill – were reunited with their families after landing at London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday.
Presidium Network, a nonprofit that carries out relief work in Ukraine, including helping with evacuations, said it was glad the men were brought home safely.
“We know that all… [are] looking forward to being normal with their families after this horrific ordeal,” the organization said in a statement.
Aslin and Pinner were captured by Russian-backed forces in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in April and have sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian-backed breakaway region in eastern Ukraine.
They, along with Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, were found guilty of “mercenary activities and carrying out actions aimed at seizing power and subverting the constitutional order of the DPR” – a sentence condemned by Ukraine and Britain.
Harding and Hill were also arrested while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, and Healy was detained while volunteering as an aid worker in Ukraine. All three denied being mercenaries during a trial in the DPR in August.
Paul Urey, a countryman from the United Kingdom, who was arrested with Healy in April, later died in custody.
Russia confirms the return of troops
The announcement of the return of the British came as Moscow confirmed that dozens of Russian soldiers liberated under the agreement with Kyiv had returned to the country.
“All service members have been brought to the territory of the Russian Federation by military transport aircraft and are at medical facilities of the Russian Defense Ministry,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“They are receiving the necessary psychological and medical support,” it added, claiming the soldiers were “in danger to their lives” while being held as prisoners.
The swaps – the largest exchange of its kind between Ukraine and Russia since the country launched its full-scale invasion of end of february – also saw Moscow secure the release of Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician.
Medvedchuk, a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has headed a pro-Russian party banned in Ukraine and is facing treason charges there.
To free 56 prisoners, Ukraine secured the return of 215 of its own soldiers – including several commanders who commanded a protracted defense of Mariupol from the Russian encirclement. It is not yet clear whether all the troops had returned to Ukraine by the time it was announced.
There are also Saadoun, a Moroccan, two Americans, a Croatian and a Swede.
The timing and scale of the prisoner swap, which Turkey and Saudi Arabia helped broker, came as a surprise.
Earlier, on Wednesday, Putin ordered mobilize up to 300,000 Russian reserves in an apparently escalating attack by Moscow.
The Russian leader’s move comes after a series of recent battlefield defeats to Russian forces, who were recently expelled from territories in northeastern Ukraine in a full-fledged counter-offensive. represented by Kyiv’s army.