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Wives of some of the Ukrainian fighters freed by Russia in a prisoner exchange described to CNN their disbelief and joy at hearing their loved ones had been freed.

Alina Volovik, speaking to CNN via WhatsApp, described a phone call from a man she did not initially identify as her husband, Artem Volovik, a Ukrainian marine who fought at the Azovstal steel plant earlier this year. by Russian forces.

“At first, I didn’t understand what was happening and where he was,” Alina Volovic recalled. “But he said, ‘Honey, I’m already in Ukraine! There was a transfer.
“I started screaming and my hands were shaking,” she said. “Now I am the happiest woman in the world.”

Russia on Wednesday freed 215 people, including some foreigners who had been fighting for Ukraine. In return, Ukraine released 55 people, including Viktor Medvechuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and oligarch whose daughter is Vladimir Putin’s daughter.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said overnight that “188 are the heroes of Azovstal and Mariupol” among the 215 released by Russia.

The release of the Azovstal and Mariupol fighters was a major blow to Ukrainian morale, as the defense of Mariupol played a large role in the Ukrainian psyche early in the war.

This was the largest single launch of Mariupol fighters. In a prisoner swap in June, Russia freed 144 soldiers, 95 of whom were guarding the Azovstal plant.

Ruslana Volynska, whose husband Serhii “Volyna” Volynskyi, the acting commander of the 36th Marine Division, told CNN she learned of the transfer via text message on the Internet.

“Then Serhiy called himself and I heard him. It was boundless joy, shock, joy! All emotions were mixed! I cried with joy and could not believe that this day had come,” he said.

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An adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, Petro Andryushchenko, who was forced to flee his city as Russia advanced, tweeted that Mariupol “is glad that its heroes have returned to Ukrainian soil. Even under occupation!”

“I still can’t believe it,” Alina Volovic told CNN. “It seems to me that this is a dream and I will wake up soon. I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I couldn’t sleep until 5 am.

“Two hours ago, I was shopping when I realized my husband was at home and started crying. The only thing I want now is to hug him soon,” she added.

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