Russia releases 10 foreigners captured in Ukraine

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RIYADH, Sept 21 (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday released 10 foreigners it had captured in Ukraine, including five Britons and two Americans, in a prisoner exchange brokered by Saudi Arabia.

The freed prisoners, who also included a Croatian, a Moroccan, and a Swedish national, were flown to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi ministry said in a statement.

“The relevant Saudi authorities received and transferred them from Russia to the kingdom and are facilitating procedures for their respective countries,” the statement said. The ministry did not name the prisoners.

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Russia also released on Wednesday 215 Ukrainians it took prisoner after a protracted battle for the port city of Mariupol earlier this year, including top military leaders, a senior official in Kyiv said. read more

The freed Ukrainians included the commander and deputy commander of the Azov battalion that did much of the fighting, said Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office.

The US citizens released were Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, a family representative told Reuters on Wednesday. read more

The pair, both from Alabama, were captured in June while fighting in eastern Ukraine, where they had gone to support Ukrainian troops resisting Russia’s invasion.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the release of the two and thanked the Ukrainian government and the Saudi crown prince for their roles.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss hailed the release of the five British nationals on Twitter as “hugely welcome news” after “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.”

She did not name them but British lawmaker Robert Jenrick said Aiden Aslin was among those released. He was captured earlier this year and sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, one of Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine. read more

Saudi media reported that the Moroccan released was Brahim Saadoun, who had been sentenced to death alongside Aslin.

A Swedish citizen captured at Mariupol and facing a possible death sentence under the laws of the DPR was also among those released, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish news agency TT on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Large numbers of foreigners have travelled to Ukraine to fight since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Some of them have been caught by Russian forces, along with other foreigners in the country who say they were not fighters.

The mediation involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has maintained close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including within the framework of the OPEC+ oil producers group, despite heavy pressure from Washington, Riyadh’s traditionally, to isolate Russia.

Both Ukrainian and Russian forces have captured hundreds of enemy fighters since the start of the conflict, with a handful of prisoner exchanges having taken place.

The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine said earlier this month that Russia was not allowing access to prisoners of war, adding that the UN had evidence that some had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment that could amount to war crimes. read more

Russia denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs.

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Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Cynthia Osterman and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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