Russia and Ukraine exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war on Wednesday, just a week after Moscow said Kyiv had shot down a plane carrying dozens of captured Ukrainian soldiers.

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Ukrainian prisoners of war are seen during a swap with Russia, at an unknown location in Ukraine, on January 31, 2024.
Ukrainian prisoners of war are seen during a swap with Russia at an unknown location in Ukraine, January 31, 2024. © Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters

Russia’s defence ministry said 195 of its soldiers were freed, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 207 people—both soldiers and civilians—had returned to Ukraine.

“Our people are back. 207 of them. We return them home no matter what,” Zelensky said in a social media post.

Russia’s defence ministry meanwhile said “195 Russian servicemen… were returned home”.

Uncertainty remains over the circumstances of last week’s crash, in which a Russian Il-76 military cargo plane was downed in a field near its western border with Ukraine.

Moscow says that 65 Ukrainian POWs being carried to a scheduled exchange were killed and that the plane was shot down by Kyiv’s forces.

Kyiv has not outright denied Moscow’s version of events but questioned whether captured Ukrainian soldiers were actually on board, and called for Moscow to publish photos of their bodies or provide other evidence to back up its claims.

The incident had thrown doubt on the future of prisoner exchanges between the two sides.

Ukraine said Wednesday’s exchange was the 50th swap between the two sides since Russia invaded in February 2022.


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