- Ukraine says it has secured the return of 144 soldiers in its biggest prisoner exchange so far.
- Ukraine's military intelligence agency said many prisoners had severe injuries.
- Of the returning troops, 95 had defended the Mariupol Azovstal steel plant, which fell in May.
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Ukraine said on Wednesday that it had secured the return of 144 of its soldiers after the biggest swap of prisoners of war since the Russian invasion began.
Ukraine's military intelligence agency confirmed the prisoner swap in a series of Telegram posts.
"Another exchange of prisoners took place, thanks to which 144 Ukrainian defenders returned home," the agency said on Telegram, calling it the largest exchange of captive soldiers since Ukraine's war with Russia began on February 24.
"Most of the released Ukrainians have serious injuries: gunshot and shrapnel wounds, explosive injuries, burns, fractures, amputations of limbs. They will all receive appropriate emergency medical and psychological care," the agency wrote.
It said the oldest returned soldier was 65, and the youngest was 19. The soldiers who returned to Ukraine included members of the national guard, naval officers, and state border guards.
According to the agency, 95 of the released troops were part of the defense of the Mariupol Azovstal steel plant, which fell to Russian forces in May. It is estimated that over 2,400 Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol surrendered to the Russians.
"Many of them are seriously injured. Immediately after release, all our heroes received medical assistance and proper care," the Ukrainian agency said, adding that it was continuing to work to get all Ukrainian prisoners released.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the news of the soldiers' return "optimistic" and "very important."
"I am grateful to the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine and to everyone who worked for this result," Zelenskyy said. "We will do everything to bring every Ukrainian man and woman home."
The New York Times spoke to Yulia Fedosiuk, whose husband Arseniy is one of the some 1,000 Azov soldiers captured by Russia. Fedosiuk said she understood that the exchange first involved the swapping of corpses and that it has now progressed to the injured prisoners of war being traded.
She told The Times that the next stage would be the swapping of soldiers who are still combat-ready, like her husband.
"We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from the Ukrainian armed forces, most of whom were wounded. Our main task is to rescue the fighters who took part in a special military operation," he said.