In the biggest prisoner exchange between Kiev and Moscow since the beginning of the war, Russia handed over a total of 215 Ukrainian fighters last Wednesday (21) in exchange for the release of, among others, millionaire Viktor Medvedtchuk, the president’s compadre. Vladimir Putin. Among them was Mikhailo Dianov, one of the last soldiers to defend Mariupol, inside the Azovstal factory.
During the Russian siege of the port city, a portrait of him, taken by Dmitro Kozatski, went around the world in newspapers and on social networks. In the makeshift trenches of the Azovstal compound — where he remained for several months until the surrender in May — Dianov appeared with one arm across his chest, while with the other hand he made a V.
He repeated the gesture when he was released by Russian troops last week. Four months later, a new photograph of Dianov in a Kiev hospital shows him unrecognizable.
According to his sister, Olena Lavrushko, Dianov was injured during the defense of Mariupol and did not receive any medical care while in prison, which would have aggravated an arm fracture – shown in the photograph now released by the Ukrainians.
“He is in a very difficult physical condition, but psychologically he remains very strong. He is very happy to be back and says: ‘I can walk and breathe fresh, free air,'” Olena told Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.
Before he can undergo arm surgery, the priority is to regain weight. According to his sister, he has lost almost a third of his body mass in recent months.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of Ukraine’s Civil Liberties Center, also shared the photo on social media, citing an excerpt from the Geneva Convention that guarantees the provision of medical care to prisoners of war.
“Look how they have shrunk them. This photo is a punch in the stomach,” Caterina Prokopenko, wife of Azov Battalion commander Denis Prokopenko, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, referring to Dianov’s photograph.
The regiment, with well-known associations with neo-Nazi ideology, was incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard after the outbreak of civil war in Donbass (east of the country) against pro-Moscow separatists in 2014. It was severely affected in the Russian campaign in southern Ukraine. , and its fame has been supplanted by the Kraken Regiment—created to rally volunteers, it operates under the orders of the Ministry of Defense and is on the front lines of the advance on Kharkiv, with several radical nationalists and Azov egresses.
“I am very happy that my husband is alive, that he has been extradited to Turkey. [como parte do acordo entre Kiev e Moscou], but worried about the other prisoners, there are thousands. Our fight is not over yet,” Caterina told reporters in Washington, where she was to call for US government action on Ukrainian prisoners of war.
“I still haven’t been told when or where I can visit him. He called me from Turkey — it was a very short phone call, less than a minute — and told me he’s in a safe place, doing medical tests, and that he loves me.”
Even at the beginning of the war, between March and April, bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the exposure of prisoners by the government of Volodymyr Zelensky and demanded the investigation of images that showed Ukrainian soldiers shooting in the legs of surrendered Russian soldiers.
Fulfilling the prisoner exchange agreement between Ukraine and Russia, Kiev’s fighters must remain in Turkey until a ceasefire in the war.
Even so, before leaving Chernihiv, where the exchange took place, Mikhailo Dianov was able to see his daughter again, in a reunion filmed and shared on Twitter by the adviser to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Anton Geraschenko.