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UAE mediates major prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine 

January 4, 2024 at 1:42 pm

Vice President of the United Arab Emirates Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2023 [UAE Presidential Affairs Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

The first exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine in about five months took place on Wednesday, with more than 470 prisoners released after complex negotiations that included mediation by the UAE.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, Ukraine handed over 248 soldiers, while Kyiv announced that it had returned 230 Russians, made up of 224 soldiers and six civilians. It has been noted that this is the largest exchange of military forces documented to date.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the operation was made possible thanks to its “strong, friendly relations” with both Moscow and Kyiv. It expressed its willingness to make further efforts to bring about an end to the war.

Video clips were published showing the released Ukrainian prisoners carrying national flags and singing the national anthem upon arrival in their country. The Russians were wearing military uniforms when they arrived in Belgorod on buses.

Although there are no talks being held to end the war, both sides have conducted several prisoner exchanges since the conflict broke out in February 2022. However, exchanges declined in 2023, with the last one being in early August.

The head of the Ukrainian Military Intelligence Agency stressed the direct role played by the UAE in facilitating this exchange, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced his commitment to continuing the exchanges and expanding their scope to include more Russian prisoners.

Zelenskyy noted ongoing efforts to find out the fate of missing persons who were previously detained. The returned Ukrainian prisoners are linked to various branches of the armed forces, including soldiers who participated in the defence of the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol before Russian forces took control of it in May 2022.

The Russian Ministry of Defence confirmed that the returned prisoners will undergo medical examinations and treatment. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova expressed her gratitude to President Vladimir Putin, the army and intelligence services for their role in this exchange.

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