According to a video broadcast by the company’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on Sunday, Russia’s most powerful mercenary group, Wagner, returned at least 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war to Ukrainian troops to commemorate Orthodox Easter.
“Prepare all of them, feed and water them, check the wounded,” Prigozhin was heard saying in a video shared by his press department on Telegram.
Following that, a group of Ukrainian detainees were shown being assured that they will be returned to Ukrainian forces to celebrate Orthodox Easter.
“I hope you don’t fall back into our hands,” an armed Wagner soldier was told telling the men before they were ordered into a truck, some loading packs of water bottles.
More than 100 men, some limping and some being carried on stretchers by their comrades, were shown making their way in line along a muddy road as a man standing on a tank held a white flag.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 130 Ukrainian prisoners of war have been released and returned home in a “great Easter exchange”. It was not clear how many Russians were sent back the other way.
Russia’s Wagner Group has been gradually pushing out Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Wagner now claims control of most of the city, though Ukraine has repeatedly disputed claims its forces have almost been pushed out.
Prigozhin was shown greeting refugees in the city, including a boy named Vladimir, before they were evacuated. The people appeared to be sleeping in a cramped underground cellar of some kind. Prigozhin handed out chocolate bars to the children.