We got out 'by the skin of our teeth', say Brits freed from Russia

·3-min read
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner - skynews
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner - skynews

Two Britons released alongside 10 other prisoners captured by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine have said they got out of the "danger zone" but by "the skin of our teeth".

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner were freed on Wednesday alongside ten other foreign prisoners after an exchange between Ukraine and Russia brokered by Saudi Arabia.

Those released included three other Britons, John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy.

The Saudi Press Agency released pictures which showed some of them in Riyadh overnight where they were flown after being released.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner in a location given as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - REUTERS
Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner in a location given as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - REUTERS

Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner thanked those who worked to free them and the public for supporting them since their capture in April in a video message recorded on a plane.

“We just want everyone to know that we are now out of the danger zone and we're on our way home to our families,” said Mr Aslin, 28.

Mr Pinner, a 48-year-old former British Army soldier, added: “By the skin of our teeth.”

Mr Aslin went on to say: “Not just us, there was in total 10 foreigners that were in captivity. We're going to be pretty quiet... until we get things sorted out, but we just want everyone to know the good news.

“Thanks to everyone that's been supporting us, it’s really appreciated.”

Mr Pinner agreed: “Thanks to everyone, I can't say thank you enough.”

Prisoners of war sit after a swap - REUTERS
Prisoners of war sit after a swap - REUTERS

Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner had been accused of being mercenaries and sentenced to death at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic after fighting in the south-eastern city of Mariupol.

Two US military veterans Alex Drueke, 40, and Andy Huynh, 27, as well as a Moroccan, Swede and Croat, were also in the group of released men.

Photos have emerged of them arriving by plane in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, seemingly escorted by Saudi officials.

Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin were captured in Mariupol in April
Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin were captured in Mariupol in April

Rumours of their execution were circulating as recently as Tuesday.

It is the most significant prisoner swap of the war to date. A total of 200 prisoners from Mariupol and the Azovstal Steel Plant were exchanged directly, including fighters from the Azov regiment, Marines, and National Guard.

They are said to be receiving treatment in hospital.

According to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Vladimir Putin ally and oligarch Victor Medvedchuk was exchanged in return for the 200, alongside 55 Russian prisoners.

The Prime Minister said: "Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families."

Liz Truss thanked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky "for his efforts to secure the release of detainees, and Saudi Arabia for their assistance".

Ukrainian prisoners of war smile after a swap - REUTERS
Ukrainian prisoners of war smile after a swap - REUTERS

"Russia must end the ruthless exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political ends," she added.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the release "brings to an end many months of uncertainty and suffering, including the threat of the death penalty, for them and their families, at the hands of Russia".

"Tragically that was not the case for one of those detained and our thoughts remain with the family of Paul Urey."

The British aid volunteer died earlier this year while being detained by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.