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Russia exchanges captive Azovstal defenders for Putin's pal Medvedchuk

Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has been exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war, including Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko, informed the Head of Ukraine's Presidential Administration Andrii Yermak.

Apart from Prokopenko, the list of liberated Ukrainians includes his deputy Svyatoslav Palamar ('Kalina'), the commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade Serhii Volynskyi (‘Volyna’), and the photographer and Azov fighter Dmytro Kozatskyi. Ukrainian Telegram channels have released their photographs made upon return.

In all, 251 defenders of Ukraine have returned home, according to Ukrainian media.

Russian pro-war communities have reported the retrieval of 55 Russian officers and several aerospace pilots. However, Russian public officials have refrained from any statements.

Medvedchuk was detained by SBU counterintelligence on April 12. On April 16, the court tightened his pretrial restrictions, refusing the right of bail. He and his wife Oksana Marchenko suggested that Putin exchange him for the defenders and residents of Mariupol. However, the Kremlin decided against the exchange.

In 2004, Medvedchuk became the godfather of Putin's daughter Daria, participating in the baptism ceremony alongside Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana as the godmother. He is known to have frequented the Russian president over the last few years.

Since 2018, Medvedchuk headed a pro-Russian party called Opposition Platform – For Life. On June 20, Ukraine outlawed its activities. Before his election to the Supreme Rada (Ukraine's parliament) in 2019, Medvedchuk was a member of the tripartisan group on the Donbas conflict resolution. In October 2021, Ukrainian authorities suspected Medvedchuk of financing terrorism. According to the SBU, in 2014, Medvedchuk set up a scheme of coal delivery from the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” to territories controlled by Ukraine.

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