Ten prisoners of war, including US and British citizens, have been transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of an exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Saudi officials said on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said on Twitter that Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, brokered the release.
The timing is remarkable, coming just hours after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin stepped up the war effort in Ukraine by announcing plans to call up some 300,000 combat reservs and send the means West undertakes a mission to assist Ukraine with a concealed threat to use nuclear weapons.
The detention of foreigners in Ukraine has alarmed human rights advocates and Western governments, raising questions about protections for thousands of foreign-born fighters serving in the country. country, some of them were taken prisoner on the battlefield.
The released prisoners include at least one person who was sentenced to death in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine.
Also among those released was Alex Drueke, a former US Army sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, according to his aunt, Dianna Shaw. Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, a former US Marine, has also been released, according to Ms. Shaw, who said she texted Huynh’s family. “We are extremely grateful,” Ms. Shaw said.
Mr Drueke and Mr Huynh disappeared together when their platoon came under “massive fire” on June 9, prompting all members of the squad to back down except for the two of them, according to a statement from the family. Mr. Drueke’s family. They had volunteered to fight in Ukraine and were captured near the city of Kharkiv on June 9 while fighting with other foreign soldiers.
Prime Minister Liz Truss said that five British nationals who had been held in Ukraine by a Russian-backed proxy organization had been released, calling it “extremely welcome news”. Ms. Truss thanked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Saudi Arabia for helping to secure the release of the citizens.
“Russia must stop the cruel exploitation of prisoners of war and civilians for political purposes,” she said.
In addition to the United States and Britain, the released prisoners came from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia. The Saudi ministry said it was working to return those released.
Robert Jenrick, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, wrote on Twitter that Aiden Aslin was among the released prisoners. Mr. Aslin’s hometown, Newark, is in Mr. Jenrick’s county.
Mr Aslin was one of three men – Shaun Pinner, a British citizen, and Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan – who were sentenced to death by a court in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine in June. Prosecutors accused the three of being mercenaries and terrorists seeking to violently overthrow the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia has recognized.
Mr. Jenrick wrote: “Aiden’s return brings an end to days of painful turmoil for Aiden’s loving family in Newark, who endured day by day of the sham trial but never lost hope. ,” wrote Mr. Jenrick. “When they unite as a family again, they can finally be at peace.”
One of the Americans to be freed, Drueke, is an avid hiker who, before the war, had lived on family land in rural western Alabama while hoping to plan “a new adventures” with his Mastiff rescue, Diesel, according to an earlier statement by his family.
In April, before leaving for Ukraine, Huynh told WAAY-TV, an ABC affiliate in northern Alabama, that he had decided to travel to Ukraine and fight after witnessing the gunmen. 18 year olds fighting for their freedom.
Huynh learned to build robots. He was in the Marines for four years, enrolling right after graduating from high school.
“I knew there was a chance I was going to die,” he told WAAY-TV. “I am willing to dedicate my life to what I believe is right.”