British fighters Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin have asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exchange them for pro-Russian politician and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, otherwise known as the 'Prince of Darkness'.
Pinner and Aslin were prompted to both speak separately by an unidentified man in footage broadcast on the Rossiya 24 state TV channel. It is not clear how freely the two men were able to talk.
'No opportunity for a safe exit'
The jailed ally, Medvedchuk, has also asked to be swapped in a video released around the same time by Ukraine's SBU intelligence service via social media.
Medvedchuk appealed to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy to be exchanged for the 'defenders of Mariupol and its citizens who are there today and have no opportunity for a safe exit through a humanitarian corridor.'
Who is Viktor Medvedchuk?
Medvedchuk is the leader of Ukraine's Opposition Platform—For Life party and a close friend and ally of Putin who advocated for years for closer ties between Russia and Ukraine. Putin is allegedly godfather to Medvedchuk’s youngest daughter Daryna.
The pro-Russian figure was captured by Ukraine last week after escaping from house arrest three days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Charged with high treason and aiding terrorism, Medvedchuk had been under house arrest since May 2021. However, he has rejected claims of wrongdoing and asserted that he is the victim of politically-motivated repression.
The unidentified man who appeared on Russian state TV showed the two British nationals a video on his mobile phone of Medvedchuk's wife, Oksana, appealing for her husband to be swapped for the two Britons over the weekend.
Appeal to Boris Johnson for an exchange
Both Pinner, 48, and Aslin, 28, fought for Ukraine in Mariupol, which is now nearly completely under Russian control, before being captured.
Pinner, a former Royal Anglian soldier originally from Bedfordshire, was captured in Mariupol while fighting alongside Ukrainian marines. Aslin, originally from Nottinghamshire, was also defending the besieged city but was forced to surrender after running out of food and ammunition.
Pinner appealed directly to Johnson, which he said was on behalf of himself and Aslin. Saying he spoke a little Russian and had been treated well, he said:
We look to exchange myself and Aiden Aslin for Mr Medvedchuk. Obviously I would really appreciate your help in this matter.
I think that Boris (Johnson) needs to listen to what Oksana (Medvedchuk's wife) has said.
If Boris Johnson really does care like he says he does about British citizens then he would help pressure Zelenskiy to do the right thing and return Viktor to his family and return us to our families.
The British Foreign Office made no immediate comment on the footage but released a statement from the Pinner family:
Our family is currently working with the Foreign Office along with the family of Aiden Aslin who is also being held by the Russian Army to ensure their rights as Prisoners Of War are upheld according to the Geneva Convention.