Five Britons released from Russian detention in Ukraine after a prisoner swap have arrived back “safely” in the UK.
One of the men, Sean Pinner, has been pictured with his family after they were reunited.
“If you thought COVID highlighted the importance of family, this is even bigger,” his sister, Cassandra, told Sky News.
Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill have been identified by the foreign and commonwealth office as the other Britons.
“We know that all are back safely in the UK now and looking forward to normality with their families after this horrific ordeal,” Presidium Network said.
The non-profit organisation added: “Most of the families have asked for privacy while they normalise back in the UK.”
Prior to their release, four of the men featured in video clips posted online or on Russian state TV.
On their flight home, Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner recorded a message, thanking those who had worked to free them.
“We’re now out of the danger zone and on our way home to our families,” said Mr Aslin.
“By the skin of our teeth,” Mr Pinner, who is from Bedfordshire, added.
Threatened to death by firing squad
In April, both men were captured by Russian forces who accused them of being mercenaries.
As a result, they appeared in court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, and were threatened with death by firing squad.
At the time, Mr Pinner’s family stressed that he was “not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian army”.
In footage broadcast on Russian state TV in April, Mr Pinner said he had been fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol for five to six weeks.
In the months before he appeared in court, he told Sky News that he was on his fourth tour of duty in Ukraine after serving in the British Army for nine years.
The 48-year-old has been living in the country since 2018 and has a Ukrainian wife.
After the news broke that the Britons would be returning to the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss said she “hugely welcomed” the move, adding it would end “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
Who else was released?
Almost 300 people were released in the prisoner swap, many of them from the Ukrainian Azov regiment, which gained fame for its defence of the final stronghold in Mariupol.
John Harding was among the small group of soldiers who were holed up inside the Azovstal steelworks in the southeastern city.
Ten other foreigners have been released to Saudi Arabia before they return home, including Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, Americans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, a Croatian, and a Swedish national.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “We remember all our people and try to save every Ukrainian.
“This is the meaning of Ukraine, our essence, this is what distinguishes us from the enemy.”
The exchange took place unexpectedly, coming as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons.
It was brokered with help from Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties with Mr Putin.
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