Ukrainian soldier

An injured Ukrainian soldier sits in a field hospital inside a bunker at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on May 10.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry has announced a prisoner exchange involving 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including scores of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol.

"This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 freed, 95 are Azovstal defenders. Among them, 43 servicemen of the Azov Regiment," the main intelligence directorate of the Defense Ministry said on June 29 on Telegram.


It did not specify when and where the swap took place or how many Russian prisoners were part of the exchange.

The head of a Russia-backed separatist group in Ukraine's Donetsk region also reported a prisoner exchange with Kyiv, saying the number of fighters exchanged was 144 on each side.

Denis Pushilin said 144 Russia-backed separatists and Russian soldiers would return home as part of the exchange.

"We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from Ukrainian armed units. Most of whom were wounded," Pushilin said on Telegram.

There had been concerns over the fate of Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner by Russian forces after they abandoned the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol.

Some prominent Russian lawmakers last month said there should be no exchange of members of the Azov Regiment, which Russia considers a neo-Nazi organization.

Russia said some 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers had been taken into custody when it took over the steel plant. Pushilin said at the time he thought the prisoners would face a "tribunal."

Ukrainian officials and relatives of the soldiers had urged Moscow to treat the men as prisoners of war, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshuk said that Kyiv would fight for their return.

Moscow and Kyiv have exchanged prisoners several times since Russia invaded on February 24.