Russia and Ukraine say they’ve exchanged captured troopers – the primary swap for the reason that crash of a Russian aircraft that Moscow claimed had 65 Ukrainian prisoners of warfare (PoWs) on board.
Russia’s navy says all sides acquired 195 troopers again on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says 207 Ukrainian troopers have been returned.
Kyiv questions Moscow’s claims that Ukrainian PoWs have been on the aircraft that got here down final week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Wednesday that the Il-76 navy transport aircraft had been downed by Ukraine within the western Belgorod area utilizing an American Patriot system. He supplied no proof.
The Russian navy had beforehand mentioned that dozens of Ukrainian troopers have been on the aircraft, which was heading to the realm for a prisoner trade. It mentioned six Russian crew members and three escorting officers have been additionally on board, including that there have been no survivors.
Russia has as but produced no agency proof of its claims and officers there have an extended and confirmed historical past of lies and disinformation.
Kyiv has circuitously denied the Russian statements however says that nothing has been confirmed.
Final week, a spokesman for navy intelligence in Kyiv informed the BBC that he “doesn’t exclude” the likelihood that PoWs have been on the Il-76 aircraft.
Different official statements discuss Ukraine’s proper to defend itself from Russian missiles, notably fired from Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border.
However many in Ukraine surprise why Russia has not proven pictures of dozens of useless our bodies after the aircraft crash to again up its assertions.
Not one of the particulars have been independently verified and each side have known as for a global investigation.
Wednesday’s trade is the fiftieth PoW swap since President Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In a short assertion, the Russian defence ministry mentioned the trade was accomplished after negotiations.
“The launched navy personnel can be transported by navy transport plane… to Moscow for therapy and rehabilitation,” it mentioned.
“All these launched are supplied with the mandatory medical and psychological help,” the assertion mentioned.
Footage launched by the ministry purportedly reveals these exchanged Russian troopers boarding a bus earlier than their flight to Moscow.
In the meantime, President Zelensky wrote in a put up on social media: “Our individuals are again. 207 of them. We return them dwelling it doesn’t matter what.
“We keep in mind each Ukrainian in captivity. Each warriors and civilians. We should convey all of them again,” he mentioned, thanking Ukraine’s prime safety officers for making the most recent trade doable.
Movies filmed by the Ukrainian authorities present the launched PoWs spilling off buses, with huge grins and shouts of “Glory to Ukraine!” One soldier drops to the bottom, rolling within the snow, so overjoyed to be again.
The lads are carrying Russian jail uniforms, their heads are close-shaven and plenty of look gaunt after their time in captivity.
Some are in tears, speaking to family by cellphone. On the finish of the video all of them stand, wrapped in Ukraine’s nationwide blue-and-yellow flags, and singing the nation’s anthem.
The trade was stored secret till it occurred, for safety. Ukraine confirms that the United Arab Emirates was concerned as a mediator, because it was earlier this month, however we have no idea any particulars in regards to the negotiations.
Ukraine’s co-ordination centre for PoWs mentioned amongst these launched have been Nationwide Guard members, border guards in addition to one police officer.
Ukraine has mentioned that not one of the 65 males who have been due for launch final week, and who Russia claims have been killed, are among the many newest to be swapped.
Nonetheless, a spokesman for Ukrainian navy intelligence informed the BBC among the different troopers who did return on Wednesday, had been as a consequence of be swapped within the final trade.
The BBC has spoken to associates and family of the 65 nonetheless unaccounted for. They don’t wish to remark publicly, however stress that there isn’t a proof of something at this level – they usually stay hopeful.
“In fact, we’re apprehensive,” a buddy of 1 prisoner mentioned. “However there isn’t a info, no proof.”
There are nonetheless 1000’s of Ukrainian PoWs being held in Russia.
Their households often don’t have any contact with them in any respect, and might know nothing in regards to the males’s destiny till they’re immediately freed in a prisoner swap.
One lady, Tetyana, whose son was captured in Ukraine’s south-eastern metropolis of Mariupol in 2022, informed the BBC she had heard nothing from her son instantly ever since.
The final affirmation he was even alive was greater than a yr in the past, when a prisoner who was launched confirmed that they’d shared a cell.
Tetyana described the agony of residing with such uncertainty and having to persuade herself every day that her son was nonetheless alive.