Dozens freed in new prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia | Russia–Ukraine War

Dozens of people, including a US citizen, have been freed in the latest prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, nearly 10 months into a bitter war that began after Moscow invaded its neighbour.

The latest exchange included 64 Ukrainian soldiers and an American national living in Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on Wednesday.

Yermak identified the American as Suedi Murekezi who he said had “helped our people” before ending up in Russian custody. He did not specify.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby did not name the released American, citing privacy concerns.

“We certainly welcome this news,” Kirby told reporters.

Fighting is raging in eastern and southern Ukraine, while the capital Kyiv has been the victim of an major drone attack Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions more displaced and cities reduced to rubble since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

“There is no calm on the front line,” Zelenskyy said in his usual evening video address, adding that Russia was destroying towns in the east with artillery “so that no only ruins and bare craters”.

Zelenskyy said this week that Russia should start pulling out of his country by Christmas as a step towards ending the conflict, the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Moscow flatly rejected the proposal, saying Ukraine must accept the loss of territory to Russia before progress can be made. He said on Wednesday there was no chance of a “Christmas ceasefire” despite prisoner releases showing contacts remained between the two sides.

Hundreds of detainees have been released on swaps in recent weeks and progress has also been made in talks to resume Russian exports of a fertilizer and the extension of a grain deal.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suggested that an all-for-all POW exchange deal could be an option, but stressed that it was up to Russia and Ukraine to reach such an agreement.

A portrait of ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger has suggested an all-for-all prisoner swap deal could be an option [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said a meaningful exchange could build trust and that such exchanges had in the past been “the first step towards a broader agreement”.

Neither the Red Cross nor the two sides have released precise numbers of war detainees from each country, but there are believed to be thousands of such prisoners.

A US official speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity confirmed that the US national freed in the latest exchange was Murekezi.

The official said Murekezi lived in or near the southern city of Kherson and that Russian forces arrested him. A group claiming to have helped save him, Project Dynamo, said Murekezi was a US Air Force veteran and was arrested by Russian forces in June.

US Considers Patriot System

Russia, which calls its war a “special military operation”, has targeted its attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October and Kyiv has appealed to its Western allies for help in bolstering the country’s air defences.

The United States is expected to make an announcement as early as Thursday on supplying the advanced Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.

Moscow said the Patriot would be a legitimate target if sent to Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, said a Patriot missile delivery would be “another provocative step by the administration, which could have unpredictable consequences.”

Such a deployment would cause “colossal damage not only to Russian-US relations, but create additional risks for global security”, he added.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is doing everything possible to get more modern and powerful anti-aircraft and anti-drone systems. The Russian attacks severely damaged the country’s public networks, interrupted water and electricity supplies and leaving millions without heating in freezing temperatures.

In the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said that in the regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Zaporizhia “the enemy launched an airstrike and 11 missile strikes, including three on civilian infrastructure… [and] launched more than 60 attacks from multiple rocket launchers”.

After a series of blitzkrieg Ukrainian counteroffensives, which saw Kyiv regain control of around half of the territory captured by Moscow in the first weeks of the war, neither side made any significant territorial gains during the war. last month.

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