September 25, 2022

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The War Between Russia and Ukraine: Live Updates - The New York Times

The War Between Russia and Ukraine: Live Updates – The New York Times

attributed to him…Dmytro Kosatsky / Azov Special Battalion of the Press Office of the Ukrainian National Guard

The Ukrainian authorities secured the release of the leaders of the Azov Battalion, who Defense of Mariupol Inside a sprawling steel mill he turned them into celebrities across Ukraine and made them a prized prize for the Kremlin when they surrendered to Russian forces in May after an 80-day siege.

Andrei Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, confirmed late Wednesday that the commander of the Azov battalion, Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko, and his deputy, Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, were among the 215 Ukrainian prisoners of war released in the prisoner exchange, making it the largest operation. Exchange of its kind since the beginning of the war.

For their liberation, the Ukrainians gave up their valuable prize: Victor Medvichuk, a Ukrainian businessman and politician, is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr Medvichuk was arrested after he went into hiding while awaiting trial at the start of the war and charged with treason, according to Ukrainian officials.

For the Ukrainians, the price was worth paying.

President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a clear order to return our heroes. The result: Our heroes are free,” Mr. Yermak said in a statement Wednesday evening. “We replaced 200 of our heroes with Medvichuk, who had already given all the testimonies he could.”

Mr. Yermak said Mr. Medvechuk was among 55 people handed over by the Ukrainian government to the Russians as part of the exchange. He did not give details of their identities, but a senior Ukrainian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the exchange, said they included pilots and senior Russian military officers.

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The official did not say when exactly the exchange took place, although Ukrainian news media began publishing photos late Wednesday, Kyiv time, of what it said were the newly released leaders.

The exchange represented a major victory for Mr. Zelensky, who vowed to repatriate all prisoners of war. The return of Azov commanders in particular is likely to further morale the Ukrainian forces across the front line, and comes after Russian forces were quickly defeated in a largely surprise Ukrainian attack. Push them out of the territory of North-Eastern Ukraine They occupied in the first weeks of the war.

Among the Ukrainians released in the exchange were soldiers, border guards and police officers, as well as several Ukrainian fighters who were pregnant, Yermak said. Mariupol Patrol Chief of Police, Mikhail Vershinin, who was among the defenders Mariupolalong with 10 foreigners, including two Americans, were members of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, a group of foreign fighters who took part in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Also released were 108 members of the Azov Battalion, a unit within the Ukrainian armed forces that Russian propaganda has attempted to portray as neo-Nazis as part of the Kremlin’s justification for the war.

The defense of Azov soldiers for Mariupol, a port city in southern Ukraine decimated by Russian forces in the first months of the war, became a source of inspiration and pride for Ukrainians, with portraits of the leaders displayed on billboards across the country.

For 80 days, the division of soldiers, outnumbered and armed by the Russian forces, continued to fight despite heavy losses and severe shortages of food, water and weapons. They hid in caches under Azovstal for iron and steel worksa sprawling factory that became a fortress and a trap at the same time, which they eventually failed to escape.

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The decision of the Ukrainian army to issue orders to the fighters Give up In May it was a gamble. And while it saved their lives, it raised fears that the Kremlin would use it as propaganda, possibly by conducting show trials. He also sent them to punish families. Description of the soldiers released earlier exchanges appalling conditionsLittle food and regular beatings by their guards.

In July huge Explosion It destroyed the barracks where many prisoners of Azovstal were interned, killing at least 50 of them. The Kremlin blamed Ukrainian forces for the prison bombing, and offered changing explanations for possible motives. Ukrainian officials called this assertion absurd, citing their repeated efforts to release prisoners. The Ukrainian government accused Russia of killing them.

Late Wednesday, the Ukrainian Presidential Administration released a video Mr. Zelensky speaks with the freed Azov leaders, who are now in Turkey. The soldiers, who were in uniform and appeared emaciated and malnourished, thanked Mr. Zelensky for refusing to abandon them.

Glory to Ukraine! Colonel Prokopenko said in the video. “Mr. President, everything is fine with us, health conditions are acceptable. I am grateful to you and the entire team.

Mr Zelensky called the exchange a “great victory for our country”, but said he would continue to press for the release of all Ukrainians still in captivity.