Russia-Ukraine war: 144 prisoners of war, including Mariupol fighters, freed in swap

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LONDON — More than 100 seriously injured Ukrainian soldiers who were captured in the evacuation of a steel plant in Mariupol in May have been released in a prisoner swap with Russia.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense announced on Twitter on Wednesday that 144 fighters had been liberated in a prisoner exchange with Russia — 95 of whom defended the port city of Mariupol in Russia’s siege, and 43 of whom were members of the Azov Regiment, which is part of Ukraine’s National Guard.

Russian servicemen patrol a steelworks. A large wrecked vehicle can be seen behind them.
Russian servicemen at a steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 18. (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian intelligence officials said most of the prisoners have “serious injuries.” In a longer statement posted to Facebook, authorities detailed the types of injuries, which included shrapnel wounds, burns and limb amputations. The oldest of the soldiers released was 65; the youngest was just 19.

In a report from the New York Times on Wednesday, the head of the Russian-backed separatist region of Donetsk said some of the soldiers who were released back to Ukraine were part of “nationalist battalions” and were in bad condition.

In mid-May, around 2,500 soldiers surrendered in what was the last stronghold of Mariupol. Many of the fighters who were holed up in the Azovstal steel plant were sent to a former prison colony located 55 miles north of the city.

The Kremlin’s Defense Ministry disclosed at the time that the 80 soldiers who had surrendered earlier in the week were being treated in hospitals in the Russian-held cities of Donetsk and Novoazovsk.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had gathered personal information from the soldiers and registered them as prisoners of war as they left the steelworks. This was to ensure that they would be given humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions. The ICRC added that it was not transporting the soldiers to where they would be held, but said it must have “immediate access to all POWs in all places where they are held.”