The wives of some Ukrainian fighters released by Russia in a prisoner swap told CNN the disbelief and joy of hearing their loved ones were released.
Alina Volovi, speaking with CNN via WhatsApp, described receiving a phone call from a man she did not recognize as her husband, Artem Volovi, a Ukrainian Marine who died earlier this year. They fought at the Azovstal steel plant in 1880, before all of Mariupol was captured. by the Russian army.
“At first I did not understand what was going on and where it was,” recalled Alina Volovich. “But he said, ‘Honey, I’m already in Ukraine! There was a swap.'”
“I just started screaming, my hands were trembling,” she said. “Now I am the happiest woman in the world.”
Russia on Wednesday released 215 people from its custody, including some foreign nationals fighting for Ukraine. In return, Ukraine released 55 people, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch whose daughter is the granddaughter of Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said overnight that “188 heroes of Azovstal and Mariupol” were among the 215 people released by Russia.
The release of Azovstal and Mariupol fighters is a major coup for Ukrainian morale, given the large role of Mariupol’s defense in the Ukrainian psyche at the start of the war.
It is the biggest single release of Mariupol’s fighters. In a prisoner swap in June, Russia released 144 soldiers, 95 of whom defended the Azovstal plant.
Ruslana Volynska, whose husband was Serhii “Volyna” Volynskyi, the acting commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, told CNN via text message that she found out about the swap on the Internet.
“Afterwards Serhi called himself, and I listened to him. It was boundless joy, shock, joy! All feelings were mixed! I cried with joy, and couldn’t believe this day had come,” she said.
The adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryshchenko, who was forced to leave his city as Russia advanced, said on Telegram that Mariupol “enjoys the return of his heroes to Ukrainian soil. Even in the profession! “
“I still can’t believe it,” Alina Volovich told CNN. “I feel like it’s a dream and I’ll wake up soon. I couldn’t sleep until 5 in the morning, because I was so overwhelmed with emotions.”
“Only two hours ago, while I was doing some shopping, I realized that my husband was at home and started crying. Now the only thing I want is to hug her as soon as possible.”