(Reuters) -Two British fighters captured in Ukraine by Russian forces appeared on Russian state TV on Monday and asked to be exchanged for a Ukrainian ally of President Vladimir Putin who is being held by the Ukrainian authorities.
It was unclear how freely the two men – Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin – were able to talk. Both spoke separately after being prompted by an unidentified man. The footage was broadcast on the Rossiya 24 state TV channel.
The two men asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exchange them for pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.
Medvedchuk was shown asking to be swapped too in a video released around the same time on Monday by Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service via social media.
Medvedchuk, in his appeal to Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy, asked 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.”
Medvedchuk is the leader of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform – For Life party and an ally of Putin who spent years advocating closer ties between Russia and Ukraine.
Both Pinner and Aslin fought on the Ukrainian side in Mariupol, which is now almost entirely under Russian control apart from the sprawling Azovstal steelworks where some Ukrainian fighters remained holed up.
The unidentified man shown on Russian state TV was seen showing the two Britons a video on his mobile phone of Medvedchuk’s wife, Oksana, making an appeal over the weekend for her husband to be swapped for the two British nationals.
APPEALS TO BORIS JOHNSON
Three days after Russia moved its forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ukraine said Medvedchuk had escaped from house arrest. He had been confined to his home in May 2021 and charged with high treason and later with aiding terrorism.
The pro-Russian figure, who says Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing and alleged that he is the victim of politically-motivated repression. He was captured by Ukraine last week.
“I understand the situation,” Pinner, who was wearing a blue hooded top and looked tired and nervous, said after being shown the video.
“I’d like to appeal to the (British) government to send me back home, I’d like to see my wife again,” he said.
Pinner made a direct appeal to Johnson which he said was on behalf of himself and Aslin.
“We look to exchange myself and Aiden Aslin for Mr Medvedchuk. Obviously I would really appreciate your help in this matter,” he said, saying he spoke a little Russian and had been treated well.
The unidentified man was then shown speaking to Aslin, who was sat on a chair wearing a T-shirt bearing the emblem of Ukraine’s far-right Azov battalion.
“I think that Boris (Johnson) needs to listen to what Oksana (Medvedchuk’s wife) has said,” said Aslin, who looked nervous.
“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 had no immediate comment on the footage but released a statement made by 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,” the statement said.
Russia has said it will keep a close eye on Medvedchuk’s fate and last week told Ukraine “to watch out” after Kyiv captured him and released photographs of him in handcuffs.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters)