Long lines of traffic seen at some of Russia’s land borders

The wives of some of the dozens of Ukrainian fighters freed by Russia in a prisoner swap described to CNN their disbelief and joy at learning that their loved ones had been freed.

Alina Volovyk, speaking with 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 steel plant in ‘Azovstal earlier this year, before all of Mariupol was captured. by Russian forces.

“At first I didn’t understand what was going on and where he was,” Alina Volovyk recalls. “But he said, ‘Honey, I’m already in Ukraine! There was an exchange.
“I just started screaming, my hands were shaking,” she said. “Now I’m the happiest woman in the world.”

Russia on Wednesday released 215 people from police custody, including foreign nationals who were fighting for Ukraine. In exchange, Ukraine released 55 people, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, whose daughter is the goddaughter of Vladimir Putin.

Among the 215 people freed by Russia were “188 heroes from Azovstal and Mariupol”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said overnight.

The release of the Azovstal and Mariupol fighters is a major blow to Ukrainian morale, given the enormous role the defense of Mariupol played in the Ukrainian psyche at the start of the war.

This is the largest single version of Mariupol fighters. In a prisoner exchange in June, Russia freed 144 soldiers, 95 of whom had defended the Azovstal plant.

Ruslana Volynska, whose husband Serhii “Volynskyi” was acting commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, told CNN via text message that she discovered the exchange on the internet.

“Later, Serhii called himself, and I heard him. It was a joy, a shock, a boundless happiness! All the emotions were mixed! I cried with happiness and couldn’t believe this day had come,” she 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 “welcomes the return of its heroes to Ukrainian soil. Even in the occupation!

“I still can’t believe it,” Alina Volovyk told CNN. “It seems like a dream to me and I will wake up soon. I couldn’t sleep until 5 a.m. because I was overwhelmed with emotions.

“Just two hours ago, while I was out shopping, I realized my husband was home and I started crying. The only thing I want now is to hug him as soon as possible,” she added.