The major exchange was conducted following "difficult" negotiations, Moscow says
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that 55 Russian and Donbass soldiers have been released as part of a major prisoner exchange with Ukraine.
The freed soldiers have been airlifted to Russia and are receiving "psychological and medical care," the ministry added.
According to the Defense Ministry, the swap occurred after "difficult" negotiations, and the detainees' lives were "under threat" in Kiev's custody.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said on Thursday that 215 Ukrainian soldiers were released, as well as 10 foreigners who were fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. Zelensky noted that Turkey and Saudi Arabia mediated the negotiations.
According to Zelensky, Russia handed over more than 100 members of Ukraine's Azov Battalion, whose ranks include fighters with openly nationalist and neo-Nazi views. Zelensky said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed that several top Ukrainian commanders would be under his "protection."
The prisoner exchange was confirmed a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization of reservists.
READ MORE: Ukraine reveals details of major prisoner swap with Russia
Meanwhile, the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as two Russian-controlled Ukrainian regions, are gearing up for referendums on joining Russia. The vote is expected to take place between Friday and Tuesday.