More than 100 Ukrainian women have been released from Russian captivity as part of what is thought to be one of the biggest prisoner swaps in the war so far.
Some 218 detainees were exchanged on Monday – 108 Ukrainian woman and 110 Russian civilian sailors and military personnel.
According to the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, each side was expected to release 110 prisoners but his side handed over only 108 Ukrainians because two wanted to stay in Russia.
Of the Ukrainians, 12 were civilians and 37 had been captured by Russian forces after the fall of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol in May.
Among them was medic Viktoria Obidina, who said that the group had no idea they would be exchanged until the last moment.
She had been separated from her young daughter when Mariupol fell and said after her release: “I will go to see my daughter – I want to see her so bad.”
Ukraine’s interior ministry said that some of the women had been prisoners since 2019, having been captured by pro-Moscow authorities in eastern regions, such as Donetsk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke about the prisoner swap in his nightly address, saying: “Among those released today are those who were captured long before the full-scale war.
“We do not forget about any of our people – we have to return them all. And we will return them all.”
He said that the Ukrainian women included officers, sergeants and privates in the army and navy, territorial defence, national guard and border guards.
He also encouraged Ukrainians to take more Russian prisoners to enable more prisoner swaps in future.
“The more Russian prisoners we have, the sooner we will be able to free our heroes. Every Ukrainian warrior, every frontline commander should remember this.
“I am grateful to all involved for this success, and I also thank all those who replenish our exchange fund, who ensure the capture of enemies.”