KYIV, Ukraine — Diana Pashko has spent many sleepless nights since her husband, a Ukrainian soldier who fought within the southern port metropolis of Mariupol, was taken prisoner in Could by Russian forces. However on Wednesday evening, she stated, “it was inconceivable to sleep from the joy.”
Her husband, Lev, was free and would quickly be residence.
“Two hours of journey and right here he’s, standing on crutches, smiling, and all these months of separation appear to have by no means occurred,” she stated.
Lev was one in all 215 Ukrainian troopers launched on Wednesday within the largest prisoner trade of the warfare, and Ms. Pashko’s sentiment mirrored the enjoyment and aid which have rippled throughout the nation. These launched included 108 members of the Azov battalion, together with 5 of its commanders, who’ve been vilified as “Nazis” by the Russian state information media however who’re extensively seen throughout Ukraine as heroes for his or her protection of Mariupol.
In return, the Ukrainians handed over Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian businessman and politician who’s an in depth buddy of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, together with 55 different Russian troopers, together with a number of high-ranking officers.
“That is undoubtedly a victory for our state, for our total society,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine stated on Thursday.
The trade got here as a shock, provided that just a few weeks in the past Russian proxy leaders in occupied japanese Ukraine stated Azov troopers would quickly be placed on trial — an announcement that Ukraine and its Western allies instantly condemned. The discharge of the Ukrainian troopers additionally got here simply hours after Mr. Putin declared a partial mobilization of as much as 300,000 extra troopers for the warfare.
As Ukrainians celebrated the prisoner trade, anger coursed by the ranks of Russian mercenaries, warfare hawks and influential navy bloggers. They’ve spent years selling the notion that Azov fighters embodied the “Nazi” forces that Moscow used to justify its warfare. Livid that the returning Russian prisoners had been barely acknowledged whereas Ukrainian troopers had been actively welcomed residence, many in these ranks made their disapproval recognized.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence colonel, went from being a navy chief for the Russian-backed separatists in japanese Ukraine to a frequent critic of Kremlin navy technique. In an announcement posted on Telegram, he referred to as the trade “unimaginable stupidity,” describing it as “worse than against the law and worse than a mistake.”
Andrey Medvedev, a Russian journalist and politician, additionally famous the absence of ceremony for the returned Russian troopers. “Empty airfield, no flags, no flowers,” he wrote on Telegram. “It is extremely bizarre when our heroes are met like this.”
In Ukraine, it was already darkish when the launched Ukrainian troopers emerged from a bus, crying tears of pleasure, after crossing again into their nation.
Kateryna Prokopenko, the spouse of the Azov commander, Lt. Col. Denys Prokopenko, has traveled world wide to marketing campaign for the discharge of the Azov troopers.
“My coronary heart goes mad!” she wrote on Twitter.
In a while Thursday, Ms. Prokopenko stated she may nonetheless barely course of her emotions. She had spoken to her husband for just a few seconds, she stated, breaking down in tears as she tried to explain how drained he seemed. “I’m simply scared to think about what they did to him there,” she stated, “and what’s subsequent.”
She additionally fearful for the hundreds of Ukrainian troopers nonetheless being held by Russian forces.
Alla Samoilenko, mom of Illia Samoilenko, who was launched, additionally wrestled with conflicting feelings. “Very lots of our guys are nonetheless there, and can we’ve got such good trade choices as we had now?” she requested. “We have to struggle for them.”