Russia has released a number of prisoners, including Britons and Americans, after mediation by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the official Saudi news agency reported on Wednesday.
The prisoners, who also included Swedish and Moroccan citizens, have been flown to the Gulf kingdom, from where they will be repatriated, the official Saudi Press Agency said, adding that their freedom was part of an exchange.
The swap included about 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war, including 100 who had mounted a last defence of the city of Mariupol at the Azovstal steel works in May, Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office told Ukrainian television.
In exchange, Kyiv released 55 Russian prisoners of war and Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian MP and ally of Vladimir Putin, who had been under arrest on treason charges.
James Cleverly, British foreign secretary, welcomed the release of the prisoners of war and one civilian, including five British nationals.
“Tragically that was not the case for one of those detained and our thoughts remain with the family of Paul Urey,” Cleverly said in a statement. Urey, 45, an aid worker, is reported to have died in detention in July after being captured by pro-Russian separatists.
Cleverly thanked Ukraine’s president and Prince Mohammed for the prisoners’ release.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken welcomed the exchange, which he said included two US citizens who were captured while serving in Ukraine’s military.
“The United States is appreciative of Ukraine including all prisoners of war, regardless of nationality, in its negotiations, and we look forward to these US citizens being reunited with their families,” he said.
Russia has captured a number of foreign volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian army since it launched the invasion in February. These included two British prisoners who in footage aired by Russian TV had pleaded for a prisoner exchange.
Volunteers from the US, Germany and France, among other western nations, have been reported killed in action in Ukraine.
The announcement of the release came hours after Vladimir Putin ordered a partial call-up of Russian reserves following a series of military setbacks, and threatened nuclear war if Russia’s “territorial integrity” was attacked.
Moscow announced the “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 reservists ahead of heavily stage-managed votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine over becoming part of Russia.
Western officials have estimated that at present there are between 150,000 and 190,000 Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia’s mediation came after the kingdom, a traditional US ally, chose to remain largely neutral toward the invasion of Ukraine, saying it would offer its services for mediation.
The Gulf kingdom has struck a partnership with Russia in the Opec+ group that decides oil production.
Russia has separately sought to negotiate a prisoner swap with Washington that would free basketball star Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, for an arms dealer in jail in the US.
Additional reporting by Andrew England in London, Felicia Schwartz in New York and Ben Hall in Kyiv