Ukrainian separatists confirm pro-Russian billionaire’s release

Ukraine’s separatists have confirmed that pro-Moscow billionaire Medvedchuk and 55 service members have been returned to Russia in an unprecedented prisoner exchange.

“56 people have been released, including 55 servicemen. Viktor Medvedchuk has also been released from custody,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said today, referring to the billionaire. and former Ukrainian parliamentarian accused of treason.

Medvedchuk, 68, is one of Ukraine’s richest people and is believed to be an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was charged with treason in May 2021, for allegedly selling military secrets to Russia and exploiting natural resources in Crimea at the request of Moscow.

Medvedchuk was arrested by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in April after a special operation and placed under house arrest. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky then proposed exchanging Mr. Medvedchuk with Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russia.

Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Medvedchuk when arrested in April. Photo: AFP.

Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Medvedchuk when arrested in April. Photo: AFP.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the released servicemen had been returned to Russia and were “in the medical facilities of the Russian Defense Ministry”. They asserted that the released prisoners were “in danger of their lives” while in custody, but did not mention where Medvedchuk was.

The Russian Defense Ministry also released a video of the released servicemen, showing the plane carrying men in military uniforms landing overnight.

After the exchange announced on September 21, Ukraine received 215 people, including five commanders of the Ukrainian forces that defended the Azovstal iron and steel plant in Mariupol before Russia took control of the city and 10 foreign nationals. outside of fighting in Ukraine.

“We are ready to accept such a price, we have released 215 people, including some war criminals,” Pushilin said, possibly referring to the soldiers of the Azov battalion. “But the mission is to get our people back as soon as possible.”

The latest exchange came as a surprise, as the Kremlin said in May that Russia had no intention of exchanging it because Medvedchuk “is a Ukrainian citizen, has nothing to do with Russia, and is not a military man.” The separatists in eastern Ukraine said last month they would try prisoners of Azov, whom Russia describes as “fascists”.

2,439 soldiers of the Azov Battalion in May surrendered to Russian forces after weeks of entrenching at the Azovstal factory. Most of them were sent to the separatist-held area of ​​Donetsk.

Huyen Le (Theo AFP)

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