Britons captured in Ukraine appear on Russian TV, asking for a swap with Putin’s ally

Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Opposition Platform – Political Party for Life, attends a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Serhiy Nozhenko

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  • Russian state TV shows two captured British fighters
  • It is unclear from the footage whether they are speaking freely or not
  • Both ask to exchange Putin’s ally imprisoned in Ukraine
  • Medvedchuk, the imprisoned ally, also requested to be exchanged

April 18 (Reuters) – Two British fighters captured by Russian forces in Ukraine appeared on Russian state television on Monday and were asked to exchange them for a Ukrainian ally of President Vladimir Putin being held by Ukrainian authorities.

It was not clear how freely the two men – Sean Benner and Aiden Aslin – were able to speak. They both spoke separately after being asked by an unknown man. The footage was broadcast on the state TV channel Rossiya 24.

The two men asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to replace them with the pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

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Medvedchuk was shown requesting that he also be exchanged in a video released around the same time on Monday by Ukraine’s SBU via social media. Read more

Medvedchuk, in his appeal to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked to replace him with “the defenders of Mariupol and its citizens who are there today and have no chance of a safe exit through a humanitarian corridor.”

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Medvedchuk is the leader of the Ukrainian opposition program – Party for Life and an ally of Putin who has spent years advocating closer relations between Russia and Ukraine.

Both Benner and Aslin fought on the Ukrainian side in Mariupol, which is now almost entirely under Russian control apart from the sprawling Azovstal steel mills where some Ukrainian fighters remained in hiding.

The unidentified man shown on Russian state television was seen showing the British a videotape on his mobile phone of Medvedchuk’s wife, Oksana, making a plea over the weekend to trade her husband for British citizens.

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Three days after Russia moved its troops into Ukraine on February 24, Ukraine said Medvedchuk had escaped house arrest. He was detained at his home in May 2021 and charged with high treason and then aiding terrorism.

The pro-Russian man, who says Putin is his daughter’s godfather, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed to be the victim of politically motivated repression. Ukraine arrested him last week.

“I understand the situation,” said Benner, who was wearing a blue hooded shirt and looked tired and nervous, after viewing the video.

“I would appeal to the (British) government to bring me home, and I would like to see my wife again,” he said.

Boehner made a direct appeal to Johnson which he said was on behalf of himself and Aslin.

“We are looking forward to exchanging myself and Aiden Aslin with Mr. Medvedchuk. Obviously I would really appreciate your help with this,” he said, saying he speaks little Russian and has been treated well.

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Then the unidentified man appeared talking to Aslin, who was sitting in a chair, wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of the far-right Azov Battalion in Ukraine.

“I think Boris (Johnson) needs to listen to what Oksana (Medvedchuk’s wife) has to say,” said Aslin, looking nervous.

“If Boris Johnson really cares as much as he says he cares about British citizens, it will help put pressure on Zelensky to do the right thing and bring Victor back to his family and us back to ours.”

The British Foreign Office had no immediate comment on the tape, but did release a statement issued by the Boehner family.

“Our family is currently working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the family of Aydin Aslin, who is also detained by the Russian military, to ensure that their rights as prisoners of war are respected in accordance with the Geneva Convention,” the statement said.

Russia said it would closely monitor Medvedchuk’s fate and last week told Ukraine to “exercise caution” after Kyiv arrested him and posted pictures of him in handcuffs. Read more

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Reuters reporters reported

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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