On Orthodox Easter Sunday, a high-ranking official from the Ukrainian presidency announced that a total of 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war were freed and sent back home as part of a "Great Easter Exchange". Now in its 14th month, throughtout invasion by Moscow, Ukrainian and Russian military forces have been conducting frequent prisoner exchanges. As a result of the conflict, Russia currently occupies large portions of territory in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.
“We are bringing back 130 of our people. It (the exchange) has been taking place in several stages over the past few days,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on the Telegram messaging app.
The number of Russians who were exchanged in return was not specified. According to Yermak, those who were released and sent back to Ukraine included various personnel such as military members, border guards, national guard members, sailors, and state border guard employees.
“Our people are returning home. Easter. The quintessence of this holiday is hope. This is exactly what the relatives of the prisoners felt, who had been waiting for them for so long,” Yermak stressed.
This marks the second significant prisoner exchange that has occurred within the past week. Last Monday, Russia and Ukraine announced that they had conducted a major prisoner exchange where 106 Russian prisoners of war were released in exchange for 100 Ukrainians.
In addition to this, Ukraine reported on Friday that it had successfully retrieved the remains of 82 of its soldiers from territory controlled by Russia. According to Yermak, “The life of ours is the highest value to us”. He reiterated Zelenskyy’s words that Ukraine would "need its heroes to be alive".
Yermak highlighted that the Coordination Headquarters responsible for managing the treatment of prisoners of war is still actively working towards accomplishing their mission, which is to ensure that every Ukrainian prisoner is successfully returned.
Ukraine military has said that despite the exceptionally violent clashes taking place in the devastated city of Bakhmut between Ukrainian and Russian armed forces, the pro-Kyiv forces are managing to maintain their hold on the city, reported The Guardian.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told the 1+1 television channel: "Bloody battles unprecedented in recent decades are taking place in the middle of the city’s urban area."
"Our soldiers are doing everything in bloody and fierce battles to grind down (the enemy’s) combat capability and break its morale. Every day, in every corner of this city, they are successfully doing so," he added.
According to a statement from the Russian Defence Ministry, units affiliated with the private military contractor Wagner had reportedly gained control over two sections on the northern and southern perimeters of the city. The Russian army's paratrooper units were also reportedly assisting the advancement by repelling Ukrainian forces on the sides.
Meanwhile, the UK's intelligence update released on Friday stated that Ukrainian troops had been compelled to relinquish control over certain parts of Bakhmut as a result of a renewed attack by Russia.