Russia, Ukraine complete prisoner swap of 195 people

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Ukrainian and Russian troops have been exchanged in the 50th prisoner swap of its kind.
Ukrainian and Russian troops have been exchanged in the 50th prisoner swap of its kind.

Russia and Ukraine say they have completed a  prisoner exchange, the first since the crash last week of a Russian military transport plane that authorities in Moscow say was carrying 65 Ukrainian soldiers ahead of a similar swap.

The two countries have carried out periodic prisoner swaps via intermediaries since the war began nearly two years ago, despite the absence of peace talks since the early months.

The Russian defence ministry said each side had received 195 soldiers while Ukraine said it had been given 207 people back.

Russia’s foreign ministry thanked the United Arab Emirates for helping broker the deal, adding in a statement that Russian soldiers would be flown to Moscow for medical and psychological treatment.

The ministry said Wednesday’s swap was originally intended to take place on January 24 but was disrupted by Ukraine shooting down a Russian plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners to the exchange point with a ground-to-air missile killing all 74 people on board.

The Il-76 transport plane was downed inside Russia’s Belgorod region.

Vladimir Putin
A plane with PoWs was shot down by a US Patriot missile system, President Vladimir Putin says. (AP PHOTO)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Ukraine had used a US Patriot missile system to bring it down.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied it downed the plane, and has demanded proof of who was on board.

“The plane was downed, and it’s been definitively established by an American Patriot system – the expert analysis has already established that,” Putin said.

“We insist that an international investigation be carried out. No international organisations are willing to do this,” he added, saying Russia was officially asking for such an investigation.

He said Ukraine had fired two missiles at the plane.

Putin said Russia would continue prisoner exchanges and that Ukraine had indicated it was open to more.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the exchange on X, writing: “Our people are back. 207 of them. We return them home no matter what.”

Ukraine’s state body in charge of PoWs said the 50th such exchange had brought home soldiers involved in defending the cities of Mariupol and Kherson as well as some captured by Russia on Snake Island in the Black Sea.

It said marines and combat medics were among the Ukrainians returned, with 36 injured or seriously ill.

The latest and biggest exchange was on January 3, when 478 captives were traded, also with UAE mediation.

Meanwhile, a Russian bomb struck a hospital in northeastern Ukraine on Wednesday, smashing windows and equipment and prompting the evacuation of dozens of patients, regional officials said.

Photos posted by Ukrainian Emergency Services on Telegram showed virtually all the hospital’s windows shattered. Smashed building materials littered the street outside.

Rooms were shown with damaged equipment and rubble strewn about.

There was no independent verification of the incident, but there have been frequent Russian attacks on targets in the Kharkiv region in recent weeks.

Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters