However, the breadth and depth of the prisoner exchange — which was brokered with involvement from Saudi Arabia and Turkey — drew praise from the governments of the freed foreigners, several of whom had been sentenced to death in territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists.
Here’s a brief look at those who were released.
Viktor Medvedchuk, 68, is a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian opposition politician and close friend of Putin’s. He was captured in April by Ukraine’s internal security service, which said Medvedchuk had been in hiding for weeks and claimed he was going to be smuggled out of Ukraine with the help of Russia. He was charged with treason last year and allegedly escaped house arrest in February, two days after the Russian invasion, according to Kyiv.
Medvedchuk, a longtime Machiavellian figure in Ukrainian politics, appears to be the highest-profile prisoner secured by the Russian side, though officials in Moscow have been surprisingly quiet about his role in the exchange, with both the Kremlin and the Defense Ministry shying away from confirming that he was involved.
The swap has already faced criticism from Russian hard-liners who say Russia gave up more than it got in the negotiations with Kyiv and are critical of the Kremlin’s decision to release members of the Azov Regiment, whom they view as a neo-Nazi threat that should be eliminated.
On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that 55 Russian soldiers had returned home but did not reveal any details of the deal. Further confirmation instead came from the Moscow-backed separatist leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, who claimed credit for the prisoner exchange and argued that it was important to release Medvedchuk because of his past role as a negotiator throughout years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
“With my own eyes I’ve seen how during the Minsk process and outside of it, more than a 1,000 of our guys have been freed with the Viktor Medvedchuk’s help who wouldn’t have survived otherwise,” Pushilin said in a video posted by Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti. In an indication of Medvedchuk’s mercurial role, he was working for Kyiv during those previous prisoner-exchange negotiations.
Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh
Alexander J. Drueke, 40, and Andy Tai Huynh, 28, two U.S. military veterans from Alabama, were released Wednesday after being captured in June near Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Drueke had told family that he was teaching Ukrainian troops how to use American-made weapons, his mother previously told The Washington Post. Joy Black, who identified herself as Huynh’s fiancee, said he had volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a statement, welcomed news of “the negotiated prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, which includes two U.S. citizens captured while serving in Ukraine’s military.” Blinken said: “We look forward to these U.S. citizens being reunited with their families.”
Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill
Five British nationals were also released Wednesday, the British government confirmed. They had been captured at various points in the war. British Prime Minister Liz Truss called it “hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.”
Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, John Harding and Andrew Hill were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces when they were captured. Dylan Healy is an aid worker who was captured in southeastern Ukraine and reportedly accused of spying.
Aslin and Pinner had been charged with acting as foreign mercenaries and sentenced to death by a Russian-backed separatist court in the breakaway…