More than 200 military and civilian personnel have been released from Russian custody after being held as prisoners of war (POWS), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on X.

“Ours are at home. More than 200 of our soldiers and civilians were returned from Russian captivity. Soldiers, sergeants, officers. Soldiers of the Armed Forces, National Guard, Navy, border guards. Part of the defenders defended Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Thank you to everyone who, despite all the difficulties, brings our people home! Thanks to our defenders! We will do everything to return all our people who are currently in Russian captivity.”

The returnees were greeted in person by Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (HUR). Who said on the HUR X account:

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“After a considerable period of time, we managed to carry out a very complex exchange.

 Today, 230 of its defenders returned to Ukraine, including combat medics and defenders from Zmiiny Island, from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which were captured in the first days of the war, from Azovstal, border guards, policemen, national guardsmen, the Armed Forces — that is, all absolutely categories.”

The 230 Ukrainian men and women who were released included 130 members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), this included 14 military policemen, 14 sailors, 55 members of the National Guard, 38 from the State Border Guard Service, one policeman and six illegally held civilians.

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President Zelensky also said the number of wounded has risen to 190 people, some still trapped under rubble and at least 98 victims hospitalized.

Of the returnees, 182 were previously listed as POWs by the International Committee of the Red Crosswhile the remaining 48 had been listed as missing in action with their whereabouts unrecorded.

Of those released, 225 were men and five were women. The military personnel included 11 officers and 213 NCOs and other ranks.

An unnamed female military combat medic soldier who had spent several months in captivity, said because she mostly spoke Ukrainian, the Russians told her on several occasions that she was being exchanged, but was returned to the place of detention.

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Among the group were seven defenders of Zmiiny (Snake) Island, a military musician, an AFU servicewoman who was captured while on maternity leave, national guardsmen who were captured at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and a teacher from the East Ukrainian National University.

66 of the released Ukrainian POWs were those who had been beseiged in the Avostal steel plant in the city of Mariupol, which fell to Russian forces in May 2022. Dozens of their comrades are still held and have been tried by Russia for war crimes, in court proceedings denounced by Ukraine and rights groups as illegal.

The Ukrainian POWs were exchanged for Russian captives according to the Russian Ministry of Defense statement: “as a result of a complex negotiation process, 248 Russian servicemen were returned from the territory controlled by the Kyiv regime.”

It appears that, after months of refusals by Russia to agree to an exchange of prisoners, today’s release was obtained after an intervention by the UAE.

Neither side discloses how many prisoners are in their custody. On Dec. 7, Ukraine's human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said that Russia is holding almost 30,000 Ukrainian civilians captive.

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