Russia, Ukraine swap prisoners as battle for Bakhmut rages | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russia said 63 Russian soldiers had been released, while Ukrainian authorities said 116 of its servicemen had been released, as fighting continued in the east.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine had freed dozens of Russian soldiers as part of negotiations brokered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“A complicated process of negotiations resulted in the return of 63 Russian servicemen from Ukrainian territory,” the ministry said on Saturday, quoted by the TASS news agency. It added that people in the “sensitive category” were also included in the deal, thanks to the Gulf state’s mediation.

The ministry did not provide details about who was in the “sensitive” group, but experts say that in previous exchanges it mentioned a variety of people, including spies and civilians holding sensitive information.

The ministry said all released soldiers are currently in Russia, adding that they are receiving medical assistance and can be contacted with their families.

The UAE maintains close ties with Moscow and remains one of the countries that do not support Western sanctions against Russia.

Last October, President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Saint-Peterburg where the Russian leader described relations between the two countries as “an important factor of stability”.

Although the Russian ministry did not refer to the event as a prisoner exchange in its comments on Saturday, later the same day the President of Ukraine confirmed the release of 116 Ukrainians, including including warriors captured in the battles of Mariupol and Kherson.

The Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War posted a notice on its Telegram channel saying that the release came as part of an operation that took place “in several stages”.

POWs of Ukraine (POW) pose for a photo after their swap, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, at an unspecified location, Ukraine, in this documentary photo released February 4, 2023. Press Service of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/ Release via REUTERS EDITORS ATTENTION - THIS IMAGE IS SUPPLIED A THIRD PARTY.  REFILE - EDIT YEARS
POWs of War of Ukraine (POW) pose for a photo after an exchange at an unknown location in Ukraine in this documentary photo released on February 4, 2023 [Press Service of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters]

Most of the 87 people freed were from the regular Ukrainian armed forces. Eight service members are from the military intelligence force while the others are from the navy and national guard. The Ukraine office said at least 23 of those released were injured or sick, adding that some had lost limbs due to frostbite.

Coordination Headquarters also said the repatriation of the bodies of British volunteers, Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Perry, took place as part of the operation.

Prisoner exchanges between the two countries have become more frequent in recent months. In a surprise move in September, more than 300 soldiers were swapped, marks the largest exchange since the invasion of Moscow last February. Two more times have happened in December and most recently in January, Ukraine and Russia freed at least 50 prisoners each.

“This marks a successful exchange, a dialogue,” said Zein Basravi of Al Jazeera. “As the two countries continued to build a wall between themselves during the war, it was exchanges like this that showed there were cracks in the wall and there was enough daylight to continue the prisoner exchange,” Basravi said. person and body”. from Kyiv.

The release of prisoners by both sides comes amid intense fighting that continues around Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Moscow says Russian forces are besieging the city from multiple directions and fighting for control of the road that is also a key supply route for Ukrainian forces.

In a defiant comment on Friday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that no one will surrender to Bakhmut. “We will fight as long as we can,” he said, standing shoulder to shoulder with European Council President Charles Michel, who is visiting Kiev for the second time in less than three weeks, and the Commission President. Europe Ursula von der Leyen.

Ukrainian soldiers fire 2S7 Pion self-propelled howitzers towards Russian positions near Bakhmut.
Ukrainian servicemen fire 2S7 Pion self-propelled howitzers towards Russian positions, during Russia’s attack on Ukraine, on the front lines near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. [Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters]

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