President Vladimir Putin’s ally Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 servicemen have been handed over to Russia in a record prisoner swap with Kyiv, a leader of Supported by Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine confirmed on Thursday.
“Fifty-six people have been released, including 55 servicemen… Viktor Medvedchuk has also been released from captivity,” Denis Pushilin told state news agency RIA Novosti, referring to the former Ukrainian lawmaker, accused of high treason.
Medvedchuk, 68, is one of the richest people in Ukraine and says Putin is godfather to his youngest daughter.
He was captured by Ukrainian special forces in mid-April after escaping house arrest.
The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier that the released servicemen had been transported to Russia and “are in medical facilities of the Russian Defense Ministry”.
He claimed in a statement that the released prisoners were “in mortal danger” while in captivity.
He did not mention where Medvedchuk was.
The Department of Defense released video of what it said were the released servicemen, showing men in military uniforms disembarking from a plane overnight.
Following the exchange announced on Wednesday, Ukraine received 215 people, including fighters who led the defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, which has become an icon of the Ukrainian resistance.
“We were ready to accept such a price, we gave 215 people, some of them…war criminals,” Pushilin said, probably referring to fighters from the Azov regiment, a former volunteer battalion incorporated into the army. Ukrainian.
The Azov fighters are hate figures for Russian state media and officials, who demonize them as “neo-Nazis” and have called for them to be brought to justice.
“But the task was to bring our guys back as soon as possible,” Pushilin added.
Also in the statement, the Defense Ministry’s daily briefing, Moscow accused Kyiv of “provocations” at Russia’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine “aimed at creating a threat of man-made disaster”.
He said that over the past 24 hours Ukraine has repeatedly bombed the nearby town of Energodar and the territory near the plant, the largest nuclear facility in Europe, adding that radiation levels were “normal”.
The plant has been a hot spot for concerns over a nuclear incident after allegations of attacks.