Putin Ally Released in Major Prisoner Exchange

'It is not a pity to give up Medvedchuk for real warriors,' Zelensky says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2022 6:27 AM CDT
Putin Ally Released in Major Prisoner Exchange
krainian soldiers released in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine hold the Ukrainian flag close to Chernihiv, Ukraine, late Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.   (Ukrainian Security service Press Office via AP)

(Newser) – Ukrainian authorities say 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters were "liberated" Wednesday in the highest-profile prisoner exchange since the Russian invasion began. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the servicemen, including fighters captured after the fall of Mariupol, were exchanged for 55 Russians and pro-Russia Ukrainians, including former opposition party leader Viktor Medvedchuk, a Vladimir Putin ally who was arrested in April. "This is clearly a victory for our country, for our entire society. And the main thing is that 215 families can see their loved ones safe and at home," Zelensky said in a video address, per Reuters. "We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian. This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy."

"It is not a pity to give up Medvedchuk for real warriors," Zelensky added. Under the deal, which Saudi Arabia and Turkey helped negotiate, five Ukrainian commanders, including those who led the defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, were taken to Turkey, Zelensky said. He said they would remain there "in total security and in comfortable conditions" until the end of the war, the Guardian reports. The ten foreign fighters released Wednesday, including two American military veterans captured in June, were flown to Saudi Arabia.

The prisoner exchange was condemned by some nationalist commentators in Russia, including Russian officer Igor Strelkov, a former leader of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, who called it "sheer stupidity or sabotage," the AP reports. In Moscow and other Russian cities, meanwhile, around 1,300 protesters were arrested Wednesday in protests against the military mobilization Putin announced earlier in the day. Videos showed Russian police officers shoving protesters to the ground or stuffing them into buses, the Washington Post reports. At a rally in Novosibirsky, one man was arrested after shouting, "I have no intention of dying for Putin."

(Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)

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