Ten prisoners of war held by
Russian-backed separatists, originating from countries including the United
States and Britain, have been transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the
exchange between Russia and Ukraine, the Gulf state said Wednesday. President
Zelensky corroborated this, mentioning it was part of the larger swap deal.
The group comprises five
British nationals, two Americans and one each from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia,
according to a Saudi official briefed on the operation. The Saudi statement
said the POWs had arrived in the kingdom from Russia, and that Saudi
authorities were “facilitating procedures for their safe return to their
British Prime Minister Liz
Truss said on Twitter that the release of the Britons was “hugely welcome
news, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their
families.” Ms. Truss said they had been “held by Russian-backed
proxies in eastern Ukraine,” and thanked both Mr. Zelensky and Saudi
Arabia for helping free them.
MP Robert Jenrick on Twitter
identified one of the British detainees as his constituent Aiden Aslin, who had
been sentenced to death in June as an alleged mercenary after being captured by
pro-Russian separatists. Mr. Jenrick said the British detainees were “on
their way back to the UK” and that Mr. Aslin’s family “could finally
be at peace.” The Moroccan detainee is Brahim Saadoun, who was also
sentenced to death in June by the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic,
according to a Moroccan official at the embassy in Riyadh.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann
Linde said on Twitter that the Swedish citizen, also held in Donetsk, “has
now been exchanged and is well.” She also thanked Ukraine and Saudi
Arabia. In Zagreb, the foreign ministry named the released Croat as Vjekoslav
Prebeg, detained in April, and said he would return on Thursday, thanking Kyiv
The families of Americans Alex
Drueke and Andy Huynh announced their release in a joint statement from Dianna
Shaw, an aunt of Mr. Drueke. Mr. Drueke, 40, and Mr. Huynh, 27, went missing in
the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on June 9.
Both had traveled to Ukraine on their own and became friends because both are
“They are safely in the
custody of the US embassy in Saudi Arabia and after medical checks and
debriefing they will return to the States,” the statement said. Ms. Shaw
said both men have spoken with relatives and are in “pretty good
shape,” according to an official with the US embassy.
The releases came following
efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler,
“in continuation of (his) commitment to the humanitarian initiatives
towards the Russian-Ukrainian crisis,” the Saudi statement said.
Video broadcast by the
official Saudi Press Agency showed the 10 prisoners of war being greeted by
Saudi officials as they descended from a plane in Riyadh, then being escorted
into a room where they chatted with diplomats from their respective embassies.