A group of ten foreign prisoners – including five Britons, Americans, a Swedish, a Croat and a Moroccan – have been released from a prison in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine in a deal negotiated by Saudi Arabia.
Several of the men were sentenced to death by a court in the Donbass region, but they were released as part of a prisoner exchange.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss said the men’s release ended “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
Truss thanked Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Saudi government for their roles in helping secure the two men’s release.
“Russia must end the brutal exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political purposes,” Truss said.
British MP Robert Jenrick said one of the men was Aidan Aslin, 28, who was sentenced to death after his arrest in eastern Ukraine.
“Aiden’s return puts an end to months of agonizing uncertainty for the loving Aiden family in Newark who have suffered every day from Aiden’s show trial but have never given up hope. As they are united as a family once again, they can finally be at peace.”
President Erdogan claims ‘two hundred prisoners exchanged’
The former prisoners arrived in Saudi Arabia from Russia, and the Saudi authorities said in a statement that they were “working to facilitate the procedures for their safe return to their country.”
The deal was facilitated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, who met with the envoy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
An official at the Moroccan Embassy in Riyadh, who asked not to be named, identified the Moroccan citizen as Ibrahim Saadoun. Saadun, who fought in the Ukrainian army, was sentenced to death for being a mercenary in Donetsk.
Sweden and Croatia confirmed the release of their citizens, and thanked Ukraine and Saudi Arabia. The Croatian Foreign Ministry said that Croatian Vikoslav Prebj, who has been detained in Ukraine since April, will return to his country on Thursday.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a US television interview that Russia and Ukraine had agreed to “exchange 200 prisoners.”
Erdogan, who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Uzbekistan, did not mention any other details about this agreement, nor about the people involved, civilians or soldiers.
Two American prisoners released
Two US veterans who disappeared three months ago while fighting Russia with Ukrainian forces were among the 10 released prisoners.
Alex Drake, 40, and Andy Huynh, 27, went missing in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on June 9. They both traveled to Ukraine on their own and became friends because they are both from Alabama.
The families announced their release in a joint statement, saying they are now at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
The sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic is not recognized by the international community.