Russia releases 215 Ukrainians detained after Mariupol battle, says Ukraine

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Sept. 21 (Reuters) – Russia has released 215 Ukrainians it captured earlier this year after a protracted battle for the port city of Mariupol, including top military leaders, a senior official in Kiev said Wednesday.

Among the released prisoners are the commander and deputy commander of the Azov battalion that did much of the fighting, said Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office.

The move is unexpected, as Russian-backed separatists last month said they would face a trial against Azov personnel, whom Moscow describes as Nazis. Ukraine denies the charge.

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In a statement, Yermak said the released detainees included Azov commander Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko and his deputy, Svyatoslav Palamar.

Also free is Serhiy Volynsky, the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The three men had helped lead a stubborn resistance from the bunkers and tunnels beneath Mariupol’s mammoth steel mill for weeks before they and hundreds of Azov fighters surrendered to Russian-backed forces in May.

Yermak said Kiev had released 55 Russian prisoners in return, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of a banned pro-Russian party accused of treason.

Public broadcaster Suspline said the exchange had taken place near the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia said Russia had released 10 foreign prisoners of war captured in Ukraine after mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. read more

Last month, the head of the Russian-backed separatist government in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region said a trial of Azov’s detained personnel would take place by the end of the summer. read more

The Azov unit, founded in 2014 as a militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, denies being fascist, and Ukraine says it has been reformed from its radical nationalist origins.

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Reporting by David Ljunggren Editing by Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

David Ljunggren

Thomson Reuters

Covers Canadian political, economic and general news, as well as breaking news in North America, formerly based in London and Moscow and winner of Reuters’ Treasury Scoop of the Year.

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