Russian state TV has aired a video that shows two fighters from the UK captured fighting for Ukraine asking to be exchanged for a pro-Kremlin politician who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities.
Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin spoke separately on the Rossiya 24 state TV channel on Monday, asking the British government for help to be brought home in exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was recently arrested by Kyiv.
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“I understand the situation,” Pinner said in the video. “I’d like to appeal to the government to send me back home, I’d like to see my wife again.”
Pinner made a direct appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his and Aslin’s behalf, saying “obviously I would really appreciate your help in this matter.”
It was unclear how freely Pinner and Aslin were able to talk, as they appeared to be prompted by an unidentified man.
The man showed them a video of Medvedchuk’s wife, Oksana, making an appeal over the weekend for her husband to be swapped with them.
“I think that Boris needs to listen to what Oksana has said,” said a nervous-looking Aslin, calling the British PM by name. “If [he] really does care about British citizens like he says he does then he will help.”
Both men fought on the Ukrainian side in Mariupol, which is now almost entirely under Russian control.
Medvedchuk, in his appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, had asked to be exchanged for the “defenders and residents of Mariupol”.
The 67-year-old had been under house arrest in Ukraine since May 2021 after being charged with high treason and later with aiding “terrorism”. Kyiv said he escaped three days after Russia moved its forces into Ukraine on February 24.
Last week, Zelenskyy announced in a Twitter post that Medvedchuk had been apprehended after a “lightning-speed operation” by Ukraine’s security service.
The pro-Russian figure, who says Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing.
Aslin’s mother, Ang Wood, told the British newspaper Daily Telegraph on Friday that she had recognised her 28-year-old son because of his distinctive tattoo.
“Aiden is a serving member of the Ukrainian armed forces, and as such is a prisoner of war and must be treated with humanity” according “to the terms of the Geneva Convention”, she was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
“It already looks like he has been beaten up. It is time now for the British government to get involved and help secure Aiden’s release because he is still a British citizen.”
Aslin joined the military in 2018 after relocating to Ukraine to start a family with his fiancée. He previously fought alongside the Kurds against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria, the newspaper said.