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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ukraine, allies celebrate prisoner exchange

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Kyiv: Ukraine is celebrating a prisoner exchange which saw more than 200 prisoners of war released by Russia.

They include more than a hundred members of of the Azov Battalion, hailed as heroes for mounting resistance at a steelworks in Mariupol, the BBC reported.

Five British nationals held by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine have been released, UK PM Liz Truss said.

Aiden Aslin, John Harding and Shaun Pinner, who were captured while fighting with Ukraine forces, are due to be returned home to the UK, the report added.

Amid rising tensions and questions like why now, Ukraine and Russia have carried out an unexpected prisoner exchange, the largest since the war started on February 24.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of President Zelensky, celebrated the “tremendous success” of the negotiations after “titanic work”, which happened with the help of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Russia freed 215 prisoners of war, including the commanders of the Azov Battalion. In return, Ukraine sent back 55 Russian fighters and the pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who was facing treason charges.

For weeks, the Azov Battalion led the resistance in the city of Mariupol, holed up in the bunkers and tunnels of the giant Azovstal steelworks, and are seen as heroes in Ukraine. Ten foreigners captured in Ukraine were also freed.

The timing of the exchange is interesting, said the BBC.

It happened hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a televised address announcing a partial military mobilisation and as so-called referendums on joining Russia are planned by Russian-backed forces in occupied areas of Ukraine.

The developments are seen as an escalation by Russia as it faces losses on the battlefield amid an offensive by Ukrainian forces to take back territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the UN General Assembly to set up a war tribunal to hold Russia accountable.

He told world leaders in a televised message at the UN General Assembly that Russia should pay for the war with its assets, adding that its officials “value money above anything else”.

Russian police are reported to have arrested hundreds of protesters rallying against the Kremlin’s decision to call up thousands of extra troops to fight in Ukraine.

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