Kyiv says 144 Ukrainian soldiers released in biggest prisoner swap

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Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that 144 of its soldiers, most former defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, had been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.

“This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion,” the main intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Telegram.

“Of the 144 freed, 95 are Azovstal defenders.”

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It did not specify when and where the swap took place or how many Russian prisoners were released as part of the exchange.

But Pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin said 144 soldiers from Russia and the Donetsk People’s Republic - the name of the breakaway region recognized by Moscow - had “returned home.”

The Ukrainian ministry statement said most of their exchanged soldiers had been seriously wounded by bullets or shell fragments, while others were suffering from burns and fractures.

It said that 43 of the freed servicemen belonged to the Azov regiment, a former paramilitary unit that is now integrated into the Ukrainian army.

Russia considers the unit a neo-Nazi organization and has previously said its soldiers should stand trial.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal confirmed the exchange on Telegram, saying only that the work to free the prisoners had been “complicated.”

Moscow and Kyiv have exchanged prisoners several times since Russia invaded on February 24.

The most recent previous exchange took place on Tuesday and involved 17 Ukrainian prisoners.

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