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Ukraine returns 215 POWs, including Azovstal defenders, from Russian captivity
Russia released 215 prisoners of war, 205 Ukrainians and 10 foreigners, in a prisoner swap on Sept. 21, according to Andriy Yermak, the head of the President's Office.
The released POWs include 108 members of the National Guard's Azov regiment, some of whom defended Azovstal, a steel plant that was the Ukrainian military's last stronghold in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, before the city became entirely occupied by Russia in May.
Among the released Ukrainians are 124 officers, including high-profile commanders such as lieutenant colonel of the National Guard of Ukraine Denys Prokopenko, Azov deputy commander Sviatoslav Palamar, as well as the commander of the 36th marine brigade Serhii Volynskyi, who were the faces of the Azovstal defense.
According to Yermak, 10 foreigners who fought for Ukraine were also released under the swap. They include foreign soldiers who were illegally sentenced to death by Russia's proxies in the occupied territories of Donetsk Oblast.
Yermak said that under the deal, Ukraine got 200 prisoners of war in exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk, Ukraine's most high-profile pro-Kremlin politician and Russian President Vladimir Putin's former right-hand man in the country. Medvedchuk was arrested in April on the charges of high treason.
Separately, five top commanders of the Azovstal defense were exchanged for 55 Russian prisoners of war, whose names weren't revealed. The five commanders were delivered to Ankara in Turkey. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, the condition is that they will stay in Turkey "until the war ends."
Azov regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, along with four other Azovstal defenders, speaks to President Volodymyr Zelensky via teleconference from Ankara, Turkey, after being released from Russian captivity in a prisoner exchange on Sept. 21. (Courtesy)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assisted in arranging the swap. It was held in several stages and in several locations, Yermak said, adding that it was "a difficult process."
Announcing the exchange, Yermak said that such achievements are "worth living for."
"Every life of a Ukrainian is of the highest value to us," he said, adding that Ukraine return each of its citizens remaining in Russian captivity.
Senior sergeant of the 36th brigade Mykhailo Dianov, and paramedic Kateryna Polishchuk, also known as Ptashka (Bird), were also released. Photos of each of them have been shared on social media upon exchange.
Paramedic Kateryna Polishchuk, also known as Ptashka (Bird), was released from Russian captivity under a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine on Sept. 21, 2022. (Azov(Azov/Operatyvnyi ZSU via Telegram)Approximately 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers, as well as civilians, were trapped inside Azovstal as of May.
Some of them were evacuated to Russian-occupied Novoazovsk and Olenivka, Donetsk Oblast. Ukraine then said that they would be returned under a prisoner exchange.
However, in July, more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were reportedly killed in what is believed to be a Russian attack on a prisoner camp in Olenivka, where Azovstal defenders and other Ukrainians were held.