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Wives of some of the scores of Ukrainian fighters released by Russia in a prisoner swap described to CNN the disbelief and joy of hearing their loved ones had been freed.

Alina Volovik, speaking to CNN via WhatsApp, described receiving a phone call from a man she didn’t recognize at first as her husband, Artem Volovik, a Ukrainian marine who fought at the Azovstal steel plant earlier this year, before all of Mariupol was Captured. by Russian forces.

Alina Volovik recalled: “At first I didn’t understand what was happening and where he was. “But he said, ‘Darling, I’m already in Ukraine! It was an exchange.’
“I just started screaming, my hands were shaking,” she said. “Now I’m the happiest woman in the world.”

Russia released 215 people from its custody on Wednesday, including several foreign nationals who fought for Ukraine. In exchange, Ukraine released 55 people, as well as Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch, whose daughter is a priest to Vladimir Putin.

Among the 215 people freed by Russia were “188 heroes of Azovstal and Mariupol,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said overnight.

The release of the Azovstal and Mariupol fighters is a major blow to Ukrainian morale, given the huge role that the defense of Mariupol played in the Ukrainian psyche early in the war.

This is the largest single release of fighters from Mariupol. In a June prisoner exchange, Russia released 144 soldiers, among whom 95 were defending the Azovstal plant.

Ruslana Volynska, whose husband Serhiy “Volyn” Volynskyi, was acting commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, told CNN via text message that she learned of the exchange on the Internet.

“Later, Serhi called me, and I heard him. It was boundless joy, shock, happiness! All emotions were mixed! I cried with happiness, and could not believe that the day had come,” she said.

An adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, who was forced to leave his city as Russia advanced, said on Telegram that Mariupol “rejoices with the return of its heroes to Ukrainian soil.” Even in the occupation!”

“I still can’t believe it,” Alina Volovik told CNN. “It seems to me that this is a dream and I will wake up soon. I couldn’t sleep until 5 o’clock in the afternoon because I was overwhelmed with emotions.”

“Only two hours ago, when I was doing some shopping, I realized that my husband was at home and started to cry. The only thing I want now is to hug him as soon as possible,” she added.

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