Five Britons released by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine have all returned home.
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who faced the death penalty in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, as well as John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill, arrived back in the UK following a prisoner swap deal brokered by Saudi Arabia.
Mr Aslin was seen back at his home in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and said he would speak in the next few days about his “traumatic experiences” after being held by separatists for several months.
Mr Pinner was shown in a picture with his family at an undisclosed location.
Non-profit organisation the Presidium Network, which has been supporting the family of Mr Healy, told the PA news agency that all five had landed “safely” in the UK and had been reunited with their families.
Dominik Byrne, co-founder of the organisation, said: “We don’t know exactly if they’ve all returned back to their homes yet, but we do know they’re with families at the moment.”
The Foreign Office has not commented on the whereabouts of the men.
Also set free were 205 Ukrainians and scores of Russians, in what was the largest prisoner swap of the war so far.
Prime minister Liz Truss said on Wednesday that the release of five Britons had been secured by working with Ukrainian authorities and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman.
A video later emerged of two men sitting on a plane flying to Riyadh, in which Mr Aslin introduced himself and Mr Pinner, saying: “We just want to let everyone know that we’re now out of the danger zone and we’re on our way home to our families.”
Mr Pinner interjected: “By the skin of our teeth”, as Mr Aslin continued: “We just want everyone to know the good news etc, so thanks to everyone that’s been supporting us and whatnot, so it’s really muchly appreciated.” Mr Pinner added: “Thanks to everybody.”
Alongside five British nationals, the five other foreigners released in the deal brokered by Saudi Arabia include a Moroccan who had also been sentenced to death in June, two Americans, a Croatian, and a Swedish national.
Mr Aslin said: “We’re going to be pretty quiet in regards to media stuff until we get things sorted out, but we just want everyone to know the good news et cetera. Thanks to everyone that’s been supporting us, it’s really appreciated.”
Also released this week were 200 Ukrainians in exchange for one man, pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, the 68-year-old oligarch whose daughter’s godfather is said to be Vladimir Putin.
He escaped from house arrest in Ukraine days before Russia's invasion and faced up to life in prison on charges of treason.
“It is not a pity to give up Medvedchuk for real warriors,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly video speech. “He has passed all the investigative actions provided by law. Ukraine has received from him everything necessary to establish the truth in the framework of criminal proceedings.”
In another swap, Ukraine won the release of five commanders who led Ukraine’s defence of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in exchange for 55 Russian prisoners, according to Mr Zelensky.
The five leaders, including Azov Regiment commanders Denys Prokopenko and Svyatoslav Palamar, are in Turkey, and as part of the deal will remain there “in complete safety” until the end of the war, under the protection of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The releases came a day after Mr Putin announced the mobilisation of some 300,000 Russians to fight in the war, declared plans to annexe swathes of eastern Ukraine and issued a series of wild nuclear threats.