Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has returned to Ukraine from Turkey with five former commanders of Ukraine’s garrison in Mariupol, a move that Russia claims violates a prisoner exchange deal. The commanders had been held in Turkey under the terms of the agreement brokered by Ankara, which required them to remain in the country until the end of the conflict. However, Zelenskiy’s decision to bring them home has drawn criticism from Russia, with the Kremlin stating that they were not informed about the release.
Zelenskiy’s visit to Turkey also included a visit to Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop that was briefly occupied by Russian forces during the invasion but later abandoned. The five commanders, hailed as heroes in Ukraine, led a valiant defense of Mariupol for three months last year, with the city being the largest captured by Russia during the conflict. Thousands of civilians lost their lives in Mariupol as Russian forces devastated the city in the early months of the war.
Russia has accused Turkey of succumbing to pressure from its NATO allies to release the commanders ahead of the upcoming NATO summit, where Ukraine hopes to receive positive indications regarding its potential membership. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, expressed disappointment over the release and emphasized that the agreement stipulated that the commanders should remain in Turkey until the conflict’s end.
Zelenskiy, without offering an explanation for the decision to bring the commanders home, thanked Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for assisting in their release. He also pledged to work towards bringing back all remaining prisoners. Ukrainians celebrated the return of the commanders, with many expressing joy and congratulating them on their release.
In response to the ongoing conflict, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken labeled Russia as the main obstacle to achieving a just and lasting peace. The U.S. has reiterated its commitment to supporting Ukraine. France’s foreign ministry also called on Russia to cease its illegal war of aggression.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s armed forces continue offensive operations in two sectors in the southeast, as stated by the general staff of the Ukrainian military. Ukrainian forces have retaken areas around the city of Bakhmut, which had been captured by Russian forces in May following months of intense fighting.
The situation in Ukraine remains tense, with Zelenskiy’s actions drawing international attention and raising questions about the future of the conflict and Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership. The return of the commanders has been viewed as a significant move, symbolizing Ukraine’s determination to defend its territories and seek justice for the victims of the war.