Monday, March 4, 2024

Russia, Ukraine conduct major prisoner exchange

Russia and Ukraine conducted the largest ever prisoner swap on Wednesday, with both Moscow and Kiev confirming hundreds to have been exchanged.

A total of 195 Russian servicemen have returned home from Ukrainian-controlled territory as a result of negotiations, the Russian Defense Ministry announced in a statement, while 195 POWs were handed over to Kiev. The exchange is the largest to date since the start of the conflict between the two countries.

The freed Russian troops, who were “under mortal danger” in captivity, will be flown to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation, the ministry said. They’re already receiving medical assistance and psychological support, it added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also confirmed the swap, but provided a different figure in respect of the released Ukrainian POWs. “Our boys are home. 207 guys”, he wrote on Telegram. Zelensky didn’t explain where the alleged extra 12 POWs had come from.

Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian negotiating team, which included military intelligence chief, Kirill Budanov, and the head of the president’s office, Andrey Yermak. He didn’t say how many Russian soldiers were released.

The prisoner exchange between the sides was to take place last week, but a Russian Il-76 transport aircraft with 65 Ukrainian POWs on board went down in Russia’s Belgorod Region, which borders Ukraine, on Wednesday.

Moscow has accused Ukrainian forces of downing the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, saying Kiev had been aware of the ill-fated flight’s route. Zelensky has refused to acknowledge that Kiev’s forces were responsible for bringing down the plane, and has called for an international investigation.

President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday that a Russian investigation had established with certainty that Kiev used a US-supplied Patriot surface-to-air missile system to down the Il-76 aircraft. He also stated Moscow “insists” that an international probe mentioned by Zelensky is carried out and invited foreign experts to Russia.

The president suggested that Kiev may have targeted the plane with its own POWs in order “to provoke counter measures on our part”. Putin also stressed that Russia won’t stop prisoner exchanges with Ukraine despite recent developments.

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