Ukraine has carried out its biggest exchange of prisoners of war since Russia invaded, securing the release of 144 of its soldiers, including 95 who had taken part in the defence of the besieged Mariupol steelworkers, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said.
The majority of the Ukrainian prisoners were badly wounded, suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds, blast traumas, burns, fractured bones and amputated limbs, the agency known by the acronym GUR said in a statement on Telegram on Wednesday.
“This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion,” the intelligence agency said.
There was no comment from Russia about a prisoner swap.
However, the head of the pro-Russia self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine Denis Pushilin said it had also secured the release of 144 soldiers, including its fighters and those of the Russian army.
“We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from Ukrainian armed units, most of whom were wounded,” he said.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal confirmed the exchange on Telegram, saying only that the work to free the prisoners had been “complicated”.
Hundreds more Ukrainians are still thought to be held by Russia and its pro-Moscow separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine, but their precise whereabouts are not known.
In particular, Kyiv has worried about the fate of hundreds of fighters from the Azov regiment that played a prominent role in the defence of Mariupol and its Azovstal steelworks before being encircled and eventually laying down their arms to Russian forces.
The prisoner swap included the handover of 43 members of the Azov regiment, a National Guard unit that Russia says is a dangerous far-right battalion. Their release is a promising sign for Ukrainians hoping for the release of other fighters from the unit.