Each side gave 144 captured fighters back
Russia and Ukraine held a new prisoner of war exchange on Wednesday. The swap has become the largest exchange since the beginning of the ongoing conflict, with each side surrendering 144 prisoners.
Ukraine's military intelligence service was the first to announce the exchange, releasing photos of the swap.
The batch included 43 fighters with the notorious Azov regiment, Ukraine's military intelligence noted. Hundreds of fighters of the neo-Nazi unit ended up in Russia's custody after surrendering at the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol.
While Moscow has remained silent on the swap so far, the exchange was confirmed by the head of the Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin. "Today, 144 fighters of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Federation, captured by the enemy, we are returning home," Pushilin wrote in a social media post.
"We gave Kiev the same number of prisoners from the armed forces of Ukraine, most of whom were wounded. Several of them are privates of nationalist battalions, their condition is deplorable: the wounds are severe, with amputation of limbs and other complications," he added.
Both Russia and Ukraine claim to have captured scores of each others' soldiers since Moscow launched its military campaign in the neighboring country in late February. Early in June, Moscow said it was holding nearly 6,500 Ukrainian fighters in custody. Ukrainian officials previously reported that 11 rounds of exchanges had taken place, with dozens of prisoners swapped.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev's failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev's main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and "create powerful armed forces."
In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.