In a deal mediated by the Vatican, Ukraine managed to secure the return of 10 civilian prisoners from Russian and Belarusian captivity, announced President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday evening.

“Thanks to everyone who helped! Thanks to our team working on the release of prisoners. I would also like to note the Vatican's efforts to bring these people home,” said Zelensky in his Telegram announcement.

The prisoners returned included a Crimean Tatar politician and two priests.

This included Nariman Dzhelal, deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people – the only higher authorized representative and executive body of the Crimean Tatar population – who was likely captured in Crimea in 2021.

Bohdan Geleta and Ivan Levitskyi, two priests from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, were captured in Berdyansk after the 2022 full-scale invasion for reportedly resisting the occupying Russian troops.

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Olena Pekh, a historian and researcher at the Horlivka Art Museum in the Donetsk region, was detained by local occupation regimes in 2018.

Valery Matyushenko, a political prisoner, was detained by occupation regimes in the Donetsk region in July 2017 and illegally sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The remaining civilian prisoners – Mykola Shvets, Natalia Zakharenko, Pavlo Kuprienko, Lyudmila Honcharenko and Kateryna Bryukhanova – were originally arrested in Belarus, including on charges of aiding the Ukrainian forces by providing information on Russian military movements, as reported by AFP.

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Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said the return of the 10 civilian prisoners was part of the 53rd prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, which started on June 25 with the release of 90 Ukrainian soldiers.

However, the role of the Vatican State, as well as the identity of Russian prisoners exchanged in return for the Ukrainian civilian prisoners, is not immediately clear.

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