Prisoner swap with Russia sees 108 Ukrainian women released
Group released includes civilians and women captured during Azovstal steelworks siege, with 110 Russians also released
Ukrainian women released during a prisoner exchange with Russia on 17 October. Photograph: Andrii Yermak Ukrainian Presidential Administration Head/EPA
@Samantha__LockTue 18 Oct 2022 07.03 BST Last modified on Tue 18 Oct 2022 15.43 BST
A prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine saw more than 100 Ukrainian women walk free on Monday, including dozens who were captured during the Azovstal steelworks siege in Mariupol in May.
A total of 218 detainees, including 108 Ukrainian women and 110 Russians, were involved in the exchange, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his latest national address.
“The next stage of the release of our people from Russian captivity took place,” he said. “We managed to return 108 Ukrainian women: officers, sergeants, privates, army, navy, territorial defence, national guards, border guards.”
Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said it was the “first all-female exchange” in a statement issued to his Telegram account shortly before 7pm on Monday.
“Mothers and daughters were in captivity and their relatives were waiting for them,” he wrote, adding that 12 civilians were among the women freed. Thirty-seven women who had been captured after Russian forces took over Mariupol’s besieged steel plant in May were also released.
Yermak described the trade as a “nervous exchange” while a series of images showed dozens of women disembarking from white buses and emotionally embracing family and friends in Zaporizhzhia, south eastern Ukraine.
Women released from captivity were met in Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine. Photograph: Ukrinform/REX/Shutterstock
He said all the women would undergo a medical examination and rehabilitation.
Russia’s ministry of defence confirmed that 110 Russian citizens, including 72 Russian seamen, had returned from Kyiv-controlled territory “as a result of negotiations” in a statement published to its official Telegram channel.
Two Ukrainian women “voluntarily refused to return to Ukraine” and will stay in Russia, the ministry added.
One of the women released back to Ukraine, medic Viktoria Obidina, said that up until the last moment the group had no idea they would be exchanged. Obidina had been with her four-year-old daughter when Mariupol fell but the two then became separated.More than 100 Ukrainian women freed from Russian captivity after prisoner swap – video
“I will go to see my daughter. I want to see her so bad,” she told local media.
Mykola Kuleba, Ukraine’s former children’s ombudsman, said Obidina had been in a Russian filtration camp in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic while relatives took care of her daughter.
“The little Alisa will soon be able to hug her mom! I’m happy for the family and overjoyed that they will be reunited,” Kuleba wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.
Ukrainian servicemen prepare to meet the women released from Russian captivity on Monday. Photograph: Ukrinform/REX/Shutterstock
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, withstood weeks of relentless Russian bombardment, with resistance concentrated in a dense network of underground tunnels at its Azovstal steel plant.
Ukrainian soldiers and civilians holed up in the smashed steel works surrendered to Russian forces late on Friday 20 May, marking an end to a three-month siege
More than 900 Ukrainian troops were sent to a prison colony in Russian-controlled territory, Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said at the time.
Women released from Russia captivity return to Zaporizhzhia. Photograph: Ukrinform/REX/Shutterstock