Russian Defense Ministry: captured Azov fighters handed over to Ukraine by Putin’s decree

The exchange of prisoners of war, including Azov fighters, was carried out on June 29 on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin, according to an urgent statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.

“It was organized and held on the direct orders of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, since the lives, health, release of our servicemen, fighters of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, who make up the majority of those returned, is the most important task,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Back in May, the speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said that “Azov” cannot be exchanged: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged. These are war criminals, we must do everything to bring them to justice.”

On June 29, Ukraine announced the largest exchange of prisoners with Russia during the war, during which 144 Ukrainian soldiers were released, 95 of them defenders of Azovstal, including 43 fighters of the Azov regiment. The head of the so-called DPR, Denis Pushilin, said that the republic had exchanged prisoners with Ukraine according to the formula "144 for 144".

In May, 2.5 thousand Ukrainian soldiers who defended Azovstal surrendered . On June 7, TASS reported that more than a thousand of them were sent to Russia for investigation. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky expressed the hope that it would be possible to save their lives: “Thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, as well as the negotiating group, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, we have hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys. I want to emphasize that Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words.

On June 30, it also became known that Ukraine had launched strikes on Zmeiny Island in the Black Sea. As a result, Russia evacuated the remnants of the garrison and probably left the island. The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Russian Armed Forces “as a step of goodwill” completed “the fulfillment of the assigned tasks on Zmeiny Island” and withdrew the garrison stationed there.

In the days leading up to the "goodwill move," Russia recognized the importance of maintaining control over Zmeiny as a strategically important site. Thus, State Duma deputy and former commander of the 58th Army, ex-deputy commander of the troops of the Southern Military District Andrey Gurulev published a text entitled "On the heroism of our soldiers in the defense of Snake Island." In it, he told how Russian soldiers deliver equipment to the island and repel the attacks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “We need control over this island, this is a strategically important object, so let's thank our heroes from the bottom of our hearts,” he concluded in the article.

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