Foreign prisoners, some facing execution, freed from east Ukraine jail

A group of ten foreign captives – including five British men, two Americans, a Swede, Croat, and a Moroccan – have been released from jail in separatist-controlled east Ukraine in a deal negotiated by Saudi Arabia. 

Several of the men had been sentenced to death by a court in the Donbas region, but were given their freedom as part of a prisoner exchange. 

British Prime Minister Liz Truss said that the mens’ release ended “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families.” 

Truss thanked both Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and the Saudi government for their parts in helping secure the release of the men.

“Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends,” said Truss.

British lawmaker Robert Jenrick said one of the men was Aiden Aslin, 28, who had been sentenced to death after he was captured in eastern Ukraine. 

“Aiden’s return brings to an end months of agonising uncertainty for Aiden’s loving family in Newark who suffered every day of Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope. As they are united as a family once more, they can finally be at peace.” 

President Erdogan claimed ‘two hundred prisoners exchanged’

The former captives arrived in Saudi Arabia from Russia, and Saudi authorities said the are “working to facilitate the procedures for their safe return to their respective countries,” in a statement.

The deal was facilitated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, who met with an envoy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Moroccan was identified as Brahim Saadoun by an official at the Moroccan embassy in Riyadh, who requested anonymity. Saadoun, who fought in the Ukrainian army, had been sentenced to death for being a mercenary in Donetsk.

Sweden and Croatia also confirmed the release of their citizens, and thanked Ukraine and Saudi Arabia. The Croatian, Vjekoslav Prebeg, detained in Ukraine since April, will return home on Thursday, Croatia’s foreign ministry said. 

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a US television interview that Russia and Ukraine had agreed to “exchange 200 prisoners”.

Mr Erdogan, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Uzbekistan, gave no other details on this agreement, nor on the people concerned, civilians or soldiers.

Two American prisoners released

Two US military veterans who disappeared three months ago while fighting Russia with Ukrainian forces were among the ten prisoners released. 

Alex Drueke, 40, and Andy Huynh, 27, went missing in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border on 9 June. Both had traveled to Ukraine on their own and became friends because both are from Alabama.

The families announced their release in a joint statement, saying they were both now at the American embassy in Saudi Arabia. 

The international community does not recognise the sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic.