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Wife of arrested Ukrainian opposition leader appeals to UK

Oksana Marchenko, the wife of arrested Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk, has released a video proposing to swap her husband for the two British fighters who reportedly surrendered to Russian and Donbass forces in Mariupol earlier this week.

Marchenko, a former TV presenter, recorded her message in both Russian and English and posted it on social media on Saturday, appealing to the families and friends of British nationals Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner.

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“It is in your power to ask the prime minister of your country, Boris Johnson, to influence the Ukrainian leadership and achieve the release of Aiden and Shaun through their exchange [for] the Ukrainian opposition politician detained by the Kiev authorities – my husband Viktor Medvedchuk.” 

Marchenko later released a video, asking Johnson to use his “great influence” on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “If you’re not indifferent to the fate of [British] subjects, help the families and friends return Aiden and Shaun. Help me return Viktor,” she said.

Marchenko then posted another video appeal, this time addressed to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, also known as MBS. Citing Riyadh’s “historically close relations” with the UK, she said: “as someone with the power to influence decisions made in London, you could use this leverage and ask Prime Minister Boris Johnson to influence President Zelensky and have my husband exchanged for a group of British nationals who have been taken prisoners of war by Russian and DPR forces in Ukraine.

Medvedchuk is a lawmaker and the leader of Opposition Platform – For Life, the second largest party in Ukraine’s parliament. He opposed the 2014 Western-backed coup in Ukraine, and believes that the country’s turn to the West is detrimental to its national interests. Opponents accuse Medvedchuk of being a pro-Russian figure, which he denies. 

Ukrainian officials stated on Tuesday that Medvedchuk was detained for supposedly trying to leave the country and released a photo of him in handcuffs. The politician had been under house arrest since last year after being charged with treason. His party was banned this month for “collaborating” with Russia.

Medvedchuk insisted that the charges against him were politically motivated. 

Russian media reported that Aslin and Pinner, who were fighting for Ukraine, were captured in Mariupol, an Azov Sea port city surrounded by Russian and Donbass forces.

RT obtained a video earlier this week of Aslin giving an interview in captivity. He said that when he joined the Ukrainian military in 2018, he believed he was with the “good side.” He explained that the situation in Mariupol was “an eye-opener” for him, claiming he sought to convince his commanders to leave the city, but they chose to stay, not least because Kiev supposedly wanted them to. 

A former British infantryman, Pinner, 48, said he had joined the Ukrainian army as a “contract soldier.” He told the UK media last month that his unit was involved in “intense” fighting with the Russians.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, expressed hope that Boris Johnson, who visited Kiev as recently as last week, will promptly come up with a response to Marchenko’s proposal. Commenting on her video messages on Telegram, she also suggested that UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss should explain what the Brits were doing in Ukraine in the first place. 

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

 The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.

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