Five Britons released from Russian detention in Ukraine after a prisoner swap have returned ‘safely’ to the UK.

One of the men, Shaun Pinner, was pictured with his family after their reunion.

“If you thought COVID emphasized the importance of family, that’s even more important,” her 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 released Britons.

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“We know that all are now safely back in the UK and we look forward to normalcy with their families after this horrific ordeal,” Presidium Network said.

The non-profit organization added: ‘Most of the families have asked for privacy while returning to the UK.

Prior to their release, four of the men appeared in music videos posted online or on Russian state television.

On their return flight, Mr. Aslin and Mr. Pinner recorded a messagethanking those who had worked to free them.

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British prisoners of war speak after their release

“We are now out of the danger zone and on our way back to our families,” Mr Aslin said.

“By the skin of our teeth,” added Mr Pinner, from Bedfordshire.

Threatened with death by firing squad

In April, the two men were captured by Russian forces who accused them of being mercenaries.

As a result, they appeared in court in the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk, 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 or a mercenary, but was officially serving in the Ukrainian army”.

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Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim were sentenced to death in April

In footage shown on Russian state television in April, Mr Pinner said he had been fighting in the besieged port city of Mariupol for five to six weeks.

In the months leading up to his court appearance, 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 lived in the country since 2018 and has a Ukrainian wife.

After the announcement that Britons would return to the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss said she was “hugely welcoming” the move, adding it would end “months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.

Shaun Pinner (center) and Aiden Aslin (right).  John Harding has a thumbs up
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Shaun Pinner (center) and Aiden Aslin (right). John Harding has a thumbs up

Who else was released?

Nearly 300 people were freed in the prisoner swap, including many from the Ukrainian Azov regiment, which became known for its defense of the last bastion in Mariupol.

John Harding was one of the small group of soldiers locked up in the steel works of Azovstal, in the southeast of the city.

Ten other foreigners were released in Saudi Arabia before returning home, including Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, Americans Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, a Croat, and a Swede.

Five British prisoners of war have been freed after being held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  Photo: SPA - Saudi Press Agency
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Nearly 300 people have been released after being detained by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Photo: SPA – Saudi Press Agency

Ukrainian 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, as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons.

It was negotiated with the help of Turkey and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close ties to Mr Putin.

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