Russia, Ukraine exchanged 200 prisoners of war under Türkiye's initiative: Erdoğan
Russia and Ukraine exchanged 200 prisoners of war on Sept. 21 as a result of Türkiye's mediation and diplomatic traffic conducted with the leaders of the two countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan told reporters in New York that the prisoner exchange under Türkiye's mediation was an "important step" towards ending the war between the two countries.
Russia received 55 prisoners including Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin accused of high treason, Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address.
The swap was the biggest exchange between the warring sides since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.
Ten prisoners of war from countries including the United States and Britain were earlier on Wednesday transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv, Zelensky said.
"We have managed to liberate 215 people," Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak announced on television.
Zelensky said five military commanders including leaders of the defence of Azovstal were taken to Türkiye as part of the operation prepared well in advance and agreed with Erdoğan.
The released prisoners will remain in Türkiye "in total security and in comfortable conditions" until the end of the war, Zelensky added.
The Ukrainian forces’ longstanding refusal to surrender at Azovstal despite shortages of ammunition and supplies earned them praise across the country for their heroism in defying overwhelming odds against Russia’s superior numbers and firepower.
The prisoners of war transferred to Saudi Arabia comprised five British nationals, two Americans and one each from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia, according to a Saudi official briefed on the operation.
A Saudi statement said they had arrived in the kingdom from Russia and that Saudi authorities were "facilitating procedures for their safe return to their respective countries".
British Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Twitter that the release of the Britons was "hugely welcome news... ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families".
Truss said they had been "held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine", and thanked Zelensky and Saudi Arabia for helping free them.
MP Robert Jenrick on Twitter identified one of the British detainees as "my constituent" Aiden Aslin, who had been sentenced to death in June as an alleged mercenary after being captured by pro-Russian separatists.
Jenrick said the British detainees were "on their way back to the UK" and that Aslin’s family "could finally be at peace".
The White House thanked Zelensky and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for facilitating the exchange.
"We look forward to our citizens being reunited with their families," U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Twitter.
The Moroccan detainee is Brahim Saadoun, who was also sentenced to death in June by the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic, according to a Moroccan official at the embassy in Riyadh.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Twitter that the Swedish citizen, also held in Donetsk, "has now been exchanged and is well". She also thanked Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.
In Zagreb, the foreign ministry named the released Croat as Vjekoslav Prebeg, detained in April, and said he would return on Thursday, thanking Kyiv and Riyadh.
Türkiye expresses referendum attempts concern in Ukraine
Türkiye expressed concern over attempts to stage unilateral referendums in some regions of Ukraine that are under Russian control.
“Such illegitimate faits accomplis will not be recognized by the international community. On the contrary, they will complicate efforts to revitalize the diplomatic process and deepen instability,” the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement on Sept. 21.
The ministry reiterated Türkiye’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty, which we have been emphasizing since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its readiness to extend all necessary support to resolve the ongoing war on the basis of the said objectives and through peaceful negotiations.
Four Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine have said they are planning to hold “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation. But Ukraine said that they will not recognize the annexations.