Russia and Ukraine complete first prisoner exchange since plane crash

The crash of a plane carrying prisoners of war had cast doubt on the future of prisoner exchanges.

A Ukrainian prisoner of war (POW) reacts after a swap
Ukraine's governmental body in charge of POWs said that this was the 50th prisoner exchange of its kind [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war, in the first prisoner swap since the crash last week of a Russian military transport plane that Moscow says was carrying 65 Ukrainian soldiers.

The Russian Ministry of Defence said that each side got 195 soldiers back and that its soldiers would be flown to Moscow to receive medical and psychological treatment.

“On January 31, as a result of the negotiation process, 195 Russian servicemen who were in mortal danger in captivity were returned from territory controlled by the Kyiv regime. In return, exactly 195 prisoners from the armed forces of Ukraine were handed over,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

It was cited by the RIA state news agency as saying that the United Arab Emirates had played a role in brokering the deal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on his official account on X that it was one of the biggest swaps so far.

He gave a slightly higher number for the number of Ukrainians returned. “Our people are back. 207 of them. We return them home no matter what,” said Zelenskyy.

Ukraine’s governmental body in charge of POWs said that this was the 50th prisoner exchange of its kind. It returned home soldiers involved in the defence of the cities of Mariupol and Kherson, as well as soldiers captured by Russia on Snake Island in the Black Sea.

The body said marines and combat medics were among those handed back and that 36 of the returned Ukrainians had injuries or serious illnesses.

The two countries have carried out periodic prisoner swaps via intermediaries since the war began nearly two years ago, despite the absence of any peace talks between them since the early months of the conflict.

The latest and biggest exchange was on January 3, when they traded a total of 478 captives following mediation by the UAE.

The crash on January 24 of a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 plane in a field before a similar planned swap had thrown doubt on the future of prisoner exchanges between the two sides.

Moscow said Ukrainian soldiers being carried to a scheduled exchange were killed when the plane was shot down by Kyiv’s forces. Kyiv has not outright denied Moscow’s version of events but questioned whether captured Ukrainian soldiers were actually on board.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said that a US-made Patriot missile was used to shoot down the military cargo plane.

“The plane was shot down, it has already been established for certain, by an American Patriot system,” Putin said in a televised appearance.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies