A prisoner swap between Kyiv and Moscow on Wednesday afternoon saw 207 Ukrainian POWs return home.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky posted photos of the event, saying: “We return despite everything. We remember everyone in captivity. Soldiers and civilians. We must return everyone. We are working on it."
Today's exchange is the 50th since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
This time, the returned servicemen include 95 representatives of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, 56 National Guardsmen, 26 border guards, 29 soldiers of the Territorial Defense and one representative of the National Police of Ukraine.
Among the released servicemen are defenders of Mariupol, Kherson, fighters from Zmeinyi Island, marines and combat medics.
In particular, Junior Sergeant Zakhar was rescued from Russian captivity. He fell into the hands of Russians together with his wife Tatiana after being evacuated from Azovstal in May 2022.
After around six months, Tatiana was exchanged and returned to Ukraine and settled with her two daughters in Dnipro.
However, on Jan. 14, Russians fired a missile at the high-rise building where the family lived.
Tatiana died under the rubble along with her younger daughter and her husband's mother.
Ruslana's eldest 19-year-old daughter is now waiting for her father to return.
The medics who saved their comrades and civilians at Mariupol Iron and Steel Works and Azovstal are returning home as well.
What happened with the last failed POW exchange?
As Kyiv Post reported last Wednesday, a Russian Il-76 plane crashed in the western Belgorod region of Russia, hitting the ground in a giant fireball, most likely killing all on board.
The Russian Ministry of Defense alleged that the plane carried 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war captured during the full-scale invasion, along with three escorts, and six crew members.
However, Ukraine has not been able to confirm or deny the information about who was actually on board the plane.
The head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (HUR), Kyrylo Budanov, noted that despite Russia's accusations that Ukraine allegedly shot down the plane containing its own prisoners, Russia has not displayed fields covered with corpses and remains, as they would have done to maximize the accusation against Ukraine.
“So, the situation is not fully understood. If it happened as Russia claims, why did Russia hide the bodies for several days and continue to hide them? It was supposed to show it to the whole world: 'Look, Ukrainians are murderers' But there are no corpses, there is nothing," Budanov noted in a TV interview broadcast last week.
On Jan. 26, he met with relatives of the prisoners of war who were allegedly transported by an Il-76 transport plane.
“The puzzle does not fit,” Budanov told the families, according to the mother of one of the prisoners. She added that the exchange was supposed to involve more than 190 prisoners, which coincides with Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement. But the Russian Defense Ministry said that only 65 detainees were on board the plane.
The Washington Post reports that Budanov said that Russia tried to obtain DNA from relatives of the supposedly dead POWs on the exchange list published by Russian media on Jan 24. As Russia has not provided any evidence that remains were ever recovered, Ukraine rejected the request.
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