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Steel plant defenders, Putin’s allies barter in prisoner swap

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine announced a high-profile prisoner swap early Thursday, culminating in months of efforts to free many Ukrainian fighters guarding a steel plant in Mariupol during Russia’s protracted siege. . In return, Ukraine gave up an ally of Russian President Putin.

President Volodymr Zelenskky said his government had won freedom from Russian custody of 215 Ukrainian and foreign citizens. He said many people who were soldiers and officers had faced the death penalty in the territory occupied by Russia.

Russian officials did not immediately confirm or comment on the swap.

Of the total, 200 Ukrainians were exchanged for only one – pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, Ukrainian. The 68-year-old tycoon escaped from house arrest in Ukraine a few days before the Russian invasion on February 24 but was recaptured in April. He faces life in prison for treason. and supporting and abetting a terrorist organization that mediates coal purchases for the separatists, the Russian-backed republic of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Putin is said to be the godfather of the youngest daughter Medvedchuk. His detention sparked a heated exchange between officials in Moscow and Kyiv. Medvedchuk is the head of the political council of Ukraine’s pro-Russian Opposition Platform for Life, the largest opposition group in Ukraine’s parliament. The government has suspended the party’s activities.

Zelenskyy said in a post on his website: “It is with no regrets to give up Medvedchuk to real warriors. Ukraine received from him everything necessary to establish the truth within the framework of the criminal procedure “.

In another exchange, Ukraine was freed five more citizens in exchange for 55 Russian prisoners it was holding, Zelenskyy said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the exchanges, calling them a “no small achievement”, but added that “a lot remains to be done to ease the pain of the war in Ukraine”, the spokesman said. his said. The UN chief reiterated the need to respect international law on the treatment of prisoners and will continue to support further prisoner exchanges, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

According to Zelenskyy, many of those freed belonged to the Azov regiment of Ukraine, whom he called heroes. More than 2,000 defenders, many from Azov’s unit, marched out of the twisted ruins of the Azovstal steel mill to Russian detention in mid-May, ending the near-long siege of the port city of Mariupol. three months. Five of the released Azov commanders now live in Turkey, according to a post on Zelenskyy’s website.

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