Britons released from Russia meet their families after months in captivity

The five Britons released from Russia overnight are meeting their families after several months of captivity in which it was feared they would be executed for fighting for Ukraine.

Shaun Pinner, who was released alongside Aiden Aslin, was pictured with his family in a hotel room this morning by his mother, Debbie Price, who thanked “all the amazing people” who made his release possible.

The Presidium Network, a group involved in supporting the rescue of one of the five, said it knew all five had been reunited with close relatives, although they may not have returned home yet.

Dominik Byrne, a co-founder of Presidium, said: “We know they’re safely in the UK and [have] been reunited with their families.”

A major diplomatic effort was behind the release of the five Britons, who together with two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croat and a Swedish national, were released by Russia to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia said its mediation effort was led by its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who had pulled out of attending the Queen’s funeral because of the ongoing controversy over his alleged role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

It is unclear if the activity represented an attempt to boost the crown prince’s standing in the UK, but the Saudis were keen to show the former captives were safe in a video and pictures released as they got off the plane on Wednesday night.

Aslin, Pinner and the other three released Britons – John Harding, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy – had been held by pro-Russia separatists in Donetsk, accused of being mercenaries fighting for Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin, left, Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Brahim Saaudun, centre, behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk.
Aiden Aslin, left, Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Brahim Saaudun, centre, behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk. Photograph: AP

Aslin and Pinner, who had joined Ukraine’s army and were captured in Mariupol, were sentenced to death by the court, a ruling that broke the Geneva conventions, which require that prisoners of war not be treated as criminals simply for taking part in fighting.

It had been assumed that Russia or the pro-Russia separatists were trying to use the five men as diplomatic leverage. Their release was something of a surprise and came after internet rumours that Aslin and Pinner had been executed.

It was also part of a wider prisoner swap deal, in which Russia released five commanders from who had been involved in defending the Azov steelworks, in a mediation involving Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for pro-Russia oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk and 200 other prisoners in exchange for 55 Russians.

Russia typically swaps prisoners on a one-to-one basis, and it had been feared the separatists would put the Azov steel plant defenders from Mariupol on trial. That it has backed away from keeping the prisoners suggests a rare concern for global public opinion on the part of Moscow.