Prisoner exchange under Ankara-brokered deal is an "important step" toward ending the conflict between the two countries, says Turkish President Erdogan.

Erdogan thanked his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy for their cooperation in the prisoner swap.
Erdogan thanked his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy for their cooperation in the prisoner swap. (AA)

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged more than 200 prisoners of war [POWs] as a result of Türkiye's mediation and diplomatic traffic conducted with Russia and Ukraine's presidents, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced.

Erdogan told reporters in New York City on Wednesday that the prisoner exchange under Türkiye's mediation was an "important step" towards ending the conflict between the two countries.

"I would also like to thank all my friends who contributed to this process," he said while thanking his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Erdogan said that Turkish efforts to establish peace between Russia and Ukraine continue.

Ukraine confirmed the exchange, with a senior Ukrainian official saying a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia, including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance, came home. 

"We have managed to liberate 215 people," the Ukraine presidency's chief of staff Andriy Yermak announced on TV.

The exchange took place on Ukrainian soil except for five prisoners who were actually brought to Türkiye to be transferred to Ukraine, TRT World's Hasan Abdullah, reporting from Ankara, said. 

READ MORE: Türkiye working to resolve hostage crisis between Russia, Ukraine: Erdogan

Ukraine, US hail Türkiye

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy later said that 215 Ukrainian and foreign citizens were released by Russia in a prisoner exchange.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine sent back 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians including Viktor Medvedchuk, the former leader of a Ukrainian pro-Russian opposition party and a close associate of Russian President Putin.

Zelenskyy also thanked Turkish President Erdogan for his help and said five senior Ukrainian commanders would remain in Türkiye "until the end of the war."

Kiev had a long and difficult fight to secure the release of the five, he said.

They include Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov battalion that did much of the fighting, and his deputy, Svyatoslav Palamar. Also freed was Serhiy Volynsky, the commander of the 36th Marine Brigade.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry also released pictures of five of its soldiers captured by Russia. They were brought to Türkiye before transfer to Ukraine.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow about the deal and why it had freed men who Russian-backed separatists said would go on trial later this year.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also praised Türkiye's initiative that resulted in the prisoner exchange.

"I would like to thank the Turkish government for helping facilitate the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia, [and] building on their leadership on the grain deal," Sullivan said.

Türkiye's peace diplomacy

Türkiye's mediation has resulted in two major meetings between foreign ministers of the warring sides in Antalya. Ankara's efforts also led to a major grain deal that was signed in Istanbul, helping avert a global food crisis.

The Türkiye-brokered grain deal allows Ukrainian agricultural products to be shipped from the Black Sea through the Istanbul Strait, reaching other parts of the globe.

"This [POWs] exchange, which took place as a result of the intense diplomatic traffic of our president, is one of the most important results of the peace diplomacy pursued by our country," Türkiye's presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said.

READ MORE: ‘Beacon of hope’: Landmark Ukraine grain export deal signed in Türkiye

Source: TRTWorld and agencies