Five British nationals held by Russian-backed forces have been safely returned, Prime Minister Liz Truss has said. They were being held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine. British nationals Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), are among those released.
They were captured alongside Morocco-born Brahim Saadoun.
Since the war began on February 24 2022, a number of British nationals have been captured in Ukraine.
The five prisoners of war were released following mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that prisoners of war from other countries held by Russia-backed proxies have also been returned.
Mr Cleverly said his “thoughts remain with the family of Paul Urey”, who died earlier this year while being detained by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.
A Saudi official said the freed prisoners included five Britons, two Americans, a Croatian, a Moroccan and a Swedish national.
Ms Truss said the “hugely welcome news” will bring an end to “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
She thanked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky “for his efforts to secure the release of detainees, and Saudi Arabia for their assistance”.
The Prime Minister added: “Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends.”
Robert Jenrick, MP for Newark said: “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.”
Mr Aslin, 28, originally from Newark, Nottinghamshire, had begun a new life in Ukraine with his fiancee before the Russian invasion started.
He had been serving as a member of the 39th Brigade Ukrainian Marines for three years before the invasion, having taken an oath to defend Ukraine.
Brennan Phillips, an American former serviceman and a friend of Mr Aslin, said Putin’s forces may “twist this as him being a foreign mercenary”, claiming they will use “any excuse they can to abuse him”.
Earlier in the war, Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov had warned “none of the mercenaries the West is sending to Ukraine to fight” would be considered “combatants in accordance with international humanitarian law or enjoy the status of prisoners of war”.