As Russia continued its brutal missile strikes against civilians, 60 Ukrainian soldiers imprisoned by Putin’s forces earlier this year have been returned to their families on the nation’s Armed Forces Day. Pictures of the relieved soldiers show them holding Ukrainian flags and rejoicing at being able to see their families after months of being held captive by Russian forces. More than half of the soldiers were captured in May by the Russians as they attempted to defend the besieged port city of Mariupol, which became the centre of brutal bombings earlier in the year. Of the 34 from Mariupol, 14 of the soldiers had been trapped in the Azovstal steel plant, upon which Russia had released chemical bombs banned by the Geneva War Convention.
Among the 60 freed, there were 58 men and two women. Three-quarters of the soldiers were privates and sergeants, while the remainder were officers.
Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak said it was “the best news on Armed Forces Day because the heroes must be alive”.
He reported that many of them are already waiting at home for their relatives, who, he said, “have been imagining this moment of happiness for so long”.
He also pledged to “return everyone” captured by the Russians in light of Tuesday’s exchange.
Many of those returned are currently wounded and will require attention from medical teams.
The move was orchestrated by the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, an organisation set up by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and signed off by President Volodymyr Zelensky a fortnight after Russia invaded on February 24.
The exchange took place with the joint efforts of the Office of the President, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the security service of Ukraine (SBU) and other Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.
The bodies of 49 Ukrainian soldiers killed in action were also returned to their families on Tuesday.
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The Head of the Office of the President, alongside Mr Zelensky, visited soldiers in an undisclosed location in the east, near the front line earlier on Tuesday.
Alongside photos of the pair with the soldiers, Mr Yermak, on his Telegram channel, said: “I am honoured to be with President Volodymyr Zelensky and the team in the East, with our military.
“Where it is difficult today. But that is where courage, dignity reigns and the true strength of our people is felt.”
He added: “Our boys and girls were awarded. We will hold, we will break the enemy’s spine, we will win. Everything will be Ukraine.”
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