In the hands of one side of the war is the leader of the largest opposition party in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, whose daughter Vladimir Putin himself is godfather to, and in the hands of the other are several British citizens. kyiv and Moscow have several prisoners of war illustrious with whom they try to pressure in the negotiations and now they have become the protagonists of two recordings in which the detainees appeal to their families and to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, to encourage an exchange. In the background, a key issue in the talks between the delegations of both countries: how to achieve the freedom of all the prisoners they have taken in almost two months of war.
So far there have been some occasional prisoner exchanges. Ukraine and Russia confirmed in early April a swap under the formula of “86 [prisioneros] by 86″, although several employees of the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom and some Crimean military personnel trapped in Ukraine who were on the list were not finally handed over to Moscow because the Russian side did not have detainees of equivalent rank to return to kyiv, he said at the time. the commissioner for human rights of the Russian Government, Tatiana Moskalkova. Before, there were at least two other exchanges.
However, after the revelation of the massacre of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha during the Russian occupation of that town close to kyiv, another exchange of 251 prisoners for each party was annulled. That day, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused kyiv of subjecting its own to “torture and intimidation” and hid behind a video broadcast by New York Times in which several Ukrainian soldiers allegedly killed another Russian who had surrendered.
Now, an important asset for a new exchange is the once powerful Víktor Medvedchuk, an oligarch, a friend of the Russian president and a key figure in Ukrainian politics in the last 20 years, who was arrested on April 12 after having escaped from his house arrest. a few days after the war began. The leader of the Opposition Platform for Life party, the second most voted in the country, had been accused in the spring of 2021 of having financed the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region, in whose peace negotiations he acted as a mediator with Russia.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) released a short half-minute video on Monday in which Medvedchuk, reclining on a table and visibly exhausted from recent months, asks to be exchanged for Ukrainian soldiers. “I, Medvedchuk, Viktor Volodymirovich, want to address the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, with the request to exchange with the Ukrainian side for the defenders of Mariupol and the civilians who are there today without the possibility of leaving safely through the humanitarian corridors”, says the opposition politician in the recording.
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This same offer was made by Zelensky five days ago. However, the Kremlin did not contemplate the exchange, or so it said until now. “On the exchange that they are talking about so enthusiastically in kyiv, (Medvedchuk) is not a Russian citizen and has no connection with the military operation, he is a foreign political figure,” Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said a day after they met. his arrest.
Everything has changed after two British citizens were captured by Russia in the battle of Mariupol. Medvedchuk’s wife, Oksana Marchenko, urged London to promote an exchange for them, and the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zajárova, supported the initiative through her Telegram profile. “Boris Johnson, who recently visited kyiv, will probably be informed of the fate of his royal majesty’s subjects. Don’t delay with the answer, Liz Truss [responsable británica de Exteriores] will tell you what some Brits were doing there.”
They are Aiden Aslin (23 years old) and Sean Pinner (48 years old), two British fighters enlisted on the Ukrainian side who were captured in the battle of Mariupol. “Dear Boris Johnson. My name is Sean Pinner. A lot has happened in the last five or six weeks, I’m not up to date with the latest developments. As far as I know, Viktor Medvedchuk has been arrested, and Aiden Aslin and I would like to be exchanged for him,” the fighter said in a recorded message on camera.
His statements and those of his partner were broadcast by Pervy Kanal, the first official Russian television. “If Boris Johnson really cares about British citizens”, then he can put pressure on Zelensky to do the right thing: return Viktor [Medvedchuk] to his family, and us to ours”, Pinner affirmed in another fragment of the video where he was asked by an anonymous person off shot. All his gestures and words reflected suffering and concern.
Aslin fought in Syria before moving to Ukraine. According to the BBC, he was detained by British police upon his return to Nottinghamshire in 2016 for questioning about his joining the Kurdish YPG units in their fight against the Islamic State, and in 2018 he enlisted in the Ukrainian army. .
In an interview published by the newspaper The Telegraph On February 14, 10 days before the start of the war in Ukraine, Aslin explained why he defended this cause: “Before I wanted to be a policeman, but then the whole thing with the Islamic State happened and I told myself that I could sit and complain about everything, or I could do something.” On April 12, his unit surrounded by Russian troops, he wrote on Twitter: “There is no other choice but to surrender.” Two days later, images of his capture were released, showing that he had suffered blows to the head.