Wives of some of the many Ukrainian fighters freed by Russia in a prisoner exchange described to CNN their disbelief and joy at hearing that their loved ones had been freed.
Alina Volovyk, speaking to CNN via WhatsApp, described receiving a phone call from a man she did not recognize at first as her husband, Artem Volovyk, a Ukrainian marine who fought at the Azovstal steel plant earlier this year. year, before all of Mariupol was captured. by Russian forces.
“At first, I did not understand what was happening and where I was,” Alina Volovyk recalled. “But he said, ‘Honey, I’m already in the Ukraine! There was an exchange.’”
“I started screaming, my hands were shaking,” he said. “Now I am the happiest woman in the world.”
Russia on Wednesday released 215 people from its custody, including some foreign nationals who had been fighting for Ukraine. In exchange, Ukraine freed 55 people, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch whose daughter is Vladimir Putin’s goddaughter.
Among the 215 people released by Russia were “188 heroes of Azovstal and Mariupol,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said overnight.
The release of the Azovstal and Mariupol fighters is a huge blow to Ukraine’s morale, given the huge role that the defense of Mariupol played in the Ukrainian psyche early in the war.
This is the largest single release of Mariupol wrestlers. In a prisoner exchange in June, Russia freed 144 soldiers, among whom 95 had defended the Azovstal plant.
Ruslana Volynska, whose husband Serhii “Volyna” Volynskyi was an acting commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, told CNN via text message that she found out about the exchange online.
“Later, Serhii called himself and I heard him. It was boundless joy, shock, happiness! All emotions mixed! I cried with happiness and couldn’t believe that he had come to this day,” he said.
An adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andriushchenko, who was forced to leave his city as Russia advanced, said on Telegram that Mariupol “rejoices at the return of its Heroes to Ukrainian soil. Even in the occupation!”
“I still can’t believe it,” Alina Volovyk told CNN. “It seems to me that this is a dream and soon I will wake up. I couldn’t sleep until 5 am, because I was overwhelmed with emotions.”
“Just two hours ago, when I was doing some shopping, I realized my husband was home and I started crying. All I want right now is to hug him as soon as possible,” she added.