Mariupol defenders released

ZBetween Ukraine and Russia, the largest exchange of prisoners since the beginning of the war took place on Thursday night. "215 good news" announced the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyj, in a video, "215 heroes" had been brought home. 205 Ukrainians and ten foreigners, mostly British and Americans, who fought on the Ukrainian side and were sometimes sentenced to death in the "People's Republic" of Donetsk, were happy about their regained freedom.

Gerhard Gnauck

Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.

In return, 55 soldiers fighting for Russia and a pro-Russian politician were released. A Ukrainian video from the border with Russia showed men hugging in the dark and someone shouting "Glory to the heroes". Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the mediators, had already announced the action on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia was also involved.

The exchange received a wide response in Ukraine, while Russia initially remained silent. According to Zelensky, 188 of the freed Ukrainians, soldiers, national guards, police, border, customs officials and others, including pregnant women, took part in the months-long defense of southern Ukraine's Mariupol. In the end, the defenders withdrew to the Azovstal Steelworks until they surrendered to the Russian besiegers on May 20.

Among those released are fighters from the former nationalist volunteer unit Azov, which was incorporated into the National Guard after the 2014 fighting. When they were in a camp in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, there was an explosion at the end of July, killing around 50 fighters. Eight of those injured at the time have now been released. Five top "Azov" commanders were released from Russia to Turkey and, according to Zelenskyy, will remain there "until the end of the war" and "under Erdogan's personal protection".

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