Ukraine and Russia swap hundreds of prisoners in "biggest" release of war

Kyiv, Ukraine - Ukraine and Russia said Wednesday they had exchanged over two hundred captive soldiers each, in what officials have described as the biggest prisoner swap of the war so far.

Ukraine and Russia completed the biggest prisoner swap of the war so far on Wednesday.
Ukraine and Russia completed the biggest prisoner swap of the war so far on Wednesday.  © REUTERS

The two warring sides have carried out dozens of exchanges since Moscow invaded in February 2022, but the process stalled in the latter half of last year.

In near-simultaneous statements, Russia and Ukraine announced they had received over 200 soldiers each following talks mediated by the United Arab Emirates.

"More than 200 of our soldiers and civilians have been returned from Russian captivity," Zelensky said on Telegram, posting a video of uniformed men celebrating.

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Neither side had announced an exchange in almost five months, prompting Kyiv to accuse Moscow of deliberately blocking deals for political reasons.

"There was a long pause in the exchanges, but there was no pause in the negotiations," Zelensky said in a later message, hailing the swap as "good news."

Moscow's defense ministry said 248 of its servicemen had been returned and that they were being provided with "medical and psychological assistance."

The UAE said the deal reflected its "strong, friendly relations" with both Russia and Ukraine.

Neither side discloses how many prisoners are in their custody.

Russia continues to intensify strikes against Ukraine

Amid the prisoner swap, Russia has continued to strike frontline areas of Ukraine.
Amid the prisoner swap, Russia has continued to strike frontline areas of Ukraine.  © REUTERS

The announcement came as Russia continued to strike frontline areas of Ukraine, killing three people and wounding at least one, local officials said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed earlier this week to intensify strikes on the country following an unprecedented attack on the Russian city of Belgorod over the weekend.

"Today, at around 11 AM, Russians struck the city of Avdiivka with four missiles," Donetsk regional head Vadym Filashkin said in a Telegram message.

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"A 51-year-old man died on the spot," he said, adding that a 50-year-old woman was wounded and taken to hospital.

Avdiivka lies close to the Russian-controlled stronghold of Donetsk and has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

Russian shelling also killed two people in villages on the Ukrainian-controlled western bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region, regional head Oleksandr Prokudin said.

With the war nearing its second anniversary, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged his Western allies to keep up support amid intensified Russian attacks.

Russian forces launched a wave of air strikes on Ukrainian cities last Friday, killing 53 people, including 30 in the capital Kyiv, authorities said in an updated toll Wednesday.

Moscow has meanwhile continued an offensive near Bakhmut and Avdiivka on the eastern front, as well as Kupiansk in the northeast, Ukrainian army officials said.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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