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Russia, Ukraine exchange hundreds of prisoners in biggest swap so far

Officials said nearly 500 prisoners of war from both sides returned home in the first exchange in nearly five months.
Russia, Ukraine exchange hundreds of prisoners in biggest swap so far
Posted at 2:55 PM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-03 14:55:23-05

Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war in the biggest single release of captives since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Ukrainian authorities said that 230 Ukrainian prisoners of war returned home in the first exchange in almost five months. Russia’s Defense Ministry said that 248 Russian servicemen have been freed under the deal sponsored by the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry attributed the successful swap to the “strong friendly relations between the UAE and both the Russian Federation and the Republic of Ukraine, which were supported by sustained calls at the highest levels.”

The UAE has maintained close economic ties with Moscow despite Western sanctions and pressure on Russia after it launched its invasion in 2022.

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, said it was the 49th prisoner exchange during the war.

SEE MORE: Ukrainian officials say Russian missiles hit Kyiv and Kharkiv

Some of the Ukrainians had been held since 2022. Among them were some of those who fought in milestone battles for Ukraine's Snake Island and the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Russian officials offered no other details of the exchange.

Also Wednesday, Russia said it shot down 12 missiles fired at one of its southern regions bordering Ukraine, as Kyiv’s forces seek to embarrass the Kremlin and puncture President Vladimir Putin’s argument that life is going on as normal despite the fighting.

The situation in the border city of Belgorod, which came under two rounds of shelling on Wednesday morning, “remains tense,” said regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov, writing on Telegram.

“Air defense systems worked,” he said, promising more details about possible damage after inspecting the area later in the day, part of a New Year's holiday week in Russia.

Ukraine fired two Tochka-U missiles and seven rockets at the region late Tuesday, followed by six Tochka-U missiles and six Vilkha rockets on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Soviet-built Tochka-U missile system has a range of up to 75 miles and a warhead that can carry cluster munitions. Ukraine has received some cluster munitions from the United States but the Tochka-U and Vilkha can use their own cluster munitions.

SEE MORE: Viewer Spotlight: Our commitment to covering the Russia-Ukraine war

The Russian side of the frontier has come under increasingly frequent attack in recent days. Throughout the war, border villages have sporadically been targeted by Ukrainian artillery fire, rockets, mortar shells and drones launched from thick forests where they are hard to detect.

Lately, as Russia fired missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities, Kyiv’s troops have aimed at Belgorod's regional capital, which is about 60 miles north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Belgorod, with a population of about 340,000, is the biggest Russian city near the border. It can be reached by relatively simple and movable weapons such as multiple rocket launchers.


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