Russian and Ukraine Swap Female Prisoners of War
Thirty-seven of the women released on the Ukrainian side had been captured by the Russian military after the fall of the Azovstal steel complex during the final days of the siege of Mariupol.
Russia and Ukraine each announced on Monday that they had carried out a major prisoner exchange, trading a total of 218 detainees from both sides—including 108 Ukrainian women captured during the first seven months of Russia’s invasion.
Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announced the swap on his Telegram channel on Monday, writing that it had been “the first all-female exchange” of the war and had included twelve civilians. Thirty-seven of the women released on the Ukrainian side had been captured by the Russian military after the fall of the Azovstal steel complex during the final days of the siege of Mariupol, a significant victory for Russia during the first phase of its invasion. The oldest among the women was sixty-two, while the youngest was twenty-one, according to Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Yermak noted that several of the prisoners were related to each other, including mothers and daughters simultaneously serving in the Ukrainian military. “Ukraine does not abandon anyone,” he wrote, posting a series of photographs of women leaving white buses and reuniting with their families.
The Russian defense ministry also acknowledged the prisoner exchange, announcing in a statement that 110 of its citizens had been freed. Of that group, the Russian statement reported that seventy-two had been Russian seamen who were interned by the Ukrainian government following the Russian invasion on February 24. It claimed that the released prisoners would be sent to Moscow for medical examination and treatment before returning home.
In a statement released after the swap was complete, the Ukrainian interior ministry indicated that some of the women who had been released were arrested before the war and had been imprisoned since 2019 following pro-Ukrainian activism in the country’s eastern Donbass region.
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged hundreds of soldiers since the onset of the Russian invasion in February. The most high-profile exchange involved the release of dozens of Azovstal defenders—some of whom were linked to the far-right Azov Regiment, formerly known as the Azov Battalion and associated with an openly neo-Nazi ideology—in exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and former leader of the Opposition Platform—For Life opposition party. Medvedchuk is a personal friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of his youngest daughter. However, Putin was criticized after that exchange by right-wing Russian ultranationalists opposed to the release of any of the Azov prisoners.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.