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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Ukrainian Presidential Press Off Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, delivers an address to the United Nations General Assembly
Prisoner Swap

Zelenskyy calls on Russians to resist mobilisation as major prisoner swap takes place

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has welcomed the exchanges.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 22nd 2022, 10:05 PM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR Zelenskyy has called on Russians to resist the partial mobilisation announced by President Vladimir Putin, which has sparked protests and a fresh exodus out of the country.

“55,000 Russian soldiers died in these six months of war…,” Zelenskyy said in his daily address.

“Want more? No? Then protest. Fight back. Run away. Or surrender” to the Ukrainian army.

“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians. Because you were silent. Because you are silent,” Zelenskyy added.

“And now it’s time for you to choose: for men in Russia, this is a choice to die or live, to become a cripple or to preserve health.

“For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren forever, or still try to protect them from death, from war, from one person (Putin),” Zelenskyy continued.

More than 1,300 people were arrested at demonstrations across Russia yesterday after the announcement of a partial mobilisation.

Prisoner swap

It comes as Ukraine and Russia made a major prisoner swap, with an exchange of 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters. The Russian defence ministry confirmed yesterday it had secured the release of 55 of its servicemen.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, confirmed that the Putin ally, pro-Russian Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, was part of the swap.

Among the freed fighters were Ukrainian defenders of a steel plant in Mariupol during a long Russian siege, along with 10 foreigners, including five British citizens and two US military veterans who had fought with Ukrainian forces.

A video on the BBC news website showed two of the released British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, speaking on a plane.

It said they had arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“We just want to let everyone know that we’re now out of the danger zone and we’re on our way home to our families,” Aslin said in the video, as Pinner added: “By the skin of our teeth.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres welcomed the exchanges, calling them “no small feat”, but adding that “much more remains to be done to ease the suffering caused by the war in Ukraine”, his spokesman said.

The exchanges drew angry comments from some nationalist commentators in Russia.

Igor Strelkov, a Russian officer who led the Moscow-backed separatists in the Donbas when a conflict there erupted in 2014, described the swap as an act of treason, saying “it’s worse than a crime, worsen than a mistake, it’s just sheer stupidity or sabotage”.

Shortly after the announcement of the swap, Russian and Ukrainian forces continued to exchange missile and artillery barrages. 

The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Oleksandr Starukh, said Russian forces had targeted infrastructure facilities and also damaged nearby apartment buildings.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Alexei Kulemzin, said at least five people were killed when Ukrainian shelling today hit a covered market and a minibus.

Overnight, one person was killed during Russian shelling in Nikopol, across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, according to the Dnipropetrovsk regional governor.

featureimage Ukrainian Security service Press Office Ukrainian soldiers released in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, hold the Ukrainian flag close to Chernihiv, Ukraine Ukrainian Security service Press Office

The speed with which the Russian missile attack came after the swap suggested that the Kremlin was seeking to dispel any notion of weakness or waning determination to achieve its wartime aims following recent battlefield losses and setbacks that gravely undercut the aura of Russian military might.

Those losses culminated yesterday in Putin’s order for a partial mobilisation of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine.

Putin’s speech

In an address to the nation yesterday morning, Putin accused the West of attempting to destroy Russia as he announced he signed a “partial mobilisation” of reserves in Russia.

“I consider it necessary to support the proposal of the Defence Ministry and of the General Staff to conduct partial mobilisation in the Russian Federation,” Putin said.

The conscription will affect only those who are in the military reserve and anyone with previous military experience. 

The Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said this will involve 300,000 people adding that students will be exempt and that only one percent of mobilisation will be used.  

He also threatened that he would use nuclear weapons to defend the integrity of Russia and stressed it by saying that he was “not bluffing”.

He said he would use “all available means” to protect the Russian territory. 

In a speech last night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zeleneskky urged the United Nations to punish Russia for its invasion, calling for a special tribunal and compensation fund and for Moscow to be stripped of its veto.

“A crime has been committed against Ukraine and we demand just punishment,” said Zelenskyy, the sole leader allowed to deliver an address via video to the annual summit.

Zelenskyy called for the establishment of a special tribunal against Russia “for the crime of aggression against our state” and to ensure accountability.

He called for a fund to compensate Ukrainians for damage suffered during the invasion.

The Ukrainian President also urged the United Nations to strip Russia of its veto power on the Security Council.

Flights out of Russia

Following Putin’s address yesterday, flights out of Russia to neighbouring countries, mainly former Soviet republics that allow Russians visa-free entry, are now nearly entirely booked and prices have skyrocketed.

There was little sign, however, of any pressure at the borders of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after those countries closed their borders to most Russians earlier in the week.

In the arrivals hall of the airport in the capital of Armenia, a 44-year-old man said he had fled Russia to escape being called up.

“The situation in Russia would make anyone want to leave,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Dmitry, 45, said he flew to Armenia from one of Russia’s eastern regions with one small bag, leaving behind his wife and two children and with “no clue what I’ll be doing here”.

He told AFP journalists:

“I don’t want to go to war. I don’t want to die in this senseless war.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today denied that Russians eligible to fight were flooding airports and lining up at the country’s borders.

“A great deal of false information has emerged about this,” he said.

Authorities in Finland, which has a land border with Russia, have not seen increased activity at their borders, despite some information on social media suggesting otherwise.

The Finnish border guards wrote on Twitter that “incorrect and misleading information circulates in social media”.

The Norwegian news agency NTB said that there is no increased activity at Storskog, the sole crossing point between Norway and Russia, located in the Arctic.

In Latvia, foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said today that the country will not issue humanitarian or other visas to Russians seeking to avoid mobilisation, citing security reasons.

“We must not give in to (Putin’s) blackmail and must support Ukraine as much as we can. Russia today is as dangerous to Europe and world peace as Nazi Germany was in the last century,” said Rinkevics, according to the Baltic News Service (BNS).

Meanwhile, Lithuanian defence minister Arvydas Anusauskas said “being drafted into the army is not enough” of a reason for Russians to get asylum in his country, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Yesterday, Estonian interior minister Lauri Laanemets called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the collective responsibility of Russian citizens” and said allowing in those fleeing possible army service would violate European Union sanctions aimed at Moscow.

In Germany, however, ministers today signalled that the country is ready to take in Russian deserters. 

“Deserters threatened with serious repression can as a rule obtain international protection in Germany,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, according to excerpts from an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

“Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and thereby falls into great danger, can file for asylum on grounds of political persecution,” she said.

Separately, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann tweeted using the hashtag “partial mobilisation” that “apparently, many Russians are leaving their homeland – anyone who hates Putin’s path and loves liberal democracy is welcome in Germany”.

Germany has taken in around a million Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion, but also welcomed Russian dissidents.

Faeser said 438 Russian dissidents – many of them journalists – have benefited from an accelerated process to obtain protection in Germany.

She pointed out, however, that political asylum is not automatically granted but applicants would first be subject to security checks.

Includes reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2022

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