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18 Apr, 2022 14:23

Detained Ukrainian opposition leader issues swap plea

Viktor Medvedchuk has asked Putin and Zelensky to exchange him for the “defenders” of Mariupol in a video by the Security Service of Ukraine
Detained Ukrainian opposition leader issues swap plea

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has published a video in which detained Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk asks Russia’s and Ukraine’s presidents to swap him for the “defenders and residents” of Mariupol.

“I, Medvedchuk Viktor Vladimirovich, want to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the Ukrainian side exchange me for the defenders and residents of Mariupol, who are there today and are unable to safely get out through humanitarian corridors,” says Medvedchuk in the video.

Medvedchuk, a lawmaker and leader of Ukraine’s second-largest party, ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’, was detained by the SBU on April 12 after being charged with treason, as his party was recently banned by Zelensky for “collaborating with Russia.” 

After his arrest, Ukraine’s interior minister adviser, Vadim Denisenko, suggested Medvedchuk be “swiftly tried, given a prison term, beaten into providing certain testimony and then exchanged,” – a statement that was blasted by a number of Russian officials.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova mocked the suggested plan for Medvedchuk’s prosecution, saying, “It’s a British scheme: Hold a swift trial, give a prison term, and then extract testimonies. Works every time.” She warned that Kiev’s idea of exchanging Ukrainian opposition politicians with Russia was a “very dangerous tendency” as there are a lot of opposition-leaning politicians and public figures in Ukraine.

Moscow commented on the idea of swapping a Ukrainian opposition leader for any of Kiev’s soldiers captured during the ongoing offensive, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov arguing that Medvedchuk was not a Russian citizen, had nothing to do with Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and might not even want Russia to play any role in his fate.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chair of the Russian national security council, responded to the Ukrainian interior ministry adviser’s suggestion by saying that people supporting such ideas “should pay attention to their surroundings and keep the door locked for the night not to get added to the list of individuals eligible for a prisoner swap themselves.”

Meanwhile, Oksana Marchenko, Medvedchuk’s spouse and a Ukrainian actress, has been pleading with several world leaders to help save her husband, stating in a press conference on Friday that she still has no information about her husband’s whereabouts and raising concerns that he is being tortured by the SBU.

“On one of the photos there are no signs of trauma, but on another picture you can clearly see bruises and hematomas which they tried to cover up with hair. This means that the pictures were taken before and during the interrogation. There is no doubt that he was being beaten up during the first hours of his detention,” she said.

She has been asking to make every possible effort to release her husband, insisting that she does not believe in a fair process for her husband and that the trial against him is a “vivid example of unlawful reprisal against an undesirable politician for his consistent, principled and open position.” 

Marchenko has issued public addresses to Zelensky, Putin, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, asking to exchange her husband for two British mercenaries who were reportedly captured in Mariupol last week, and has stated that her husband “gave his consent to be exchanged and transferred to the territory of the Russian Federation if the Russian and Ukrainian sides reach the relevant agreements.”

The two captured mercenaries – Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin – have recently appeared on Russian state TV and have asked Boris Johnson to do what he could to exchange them for Medvedchuk.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed hope that Boris Johnson will give a prompt response to Marchenko’s proposal, while the Kremlin stated on Monday that it has no comments at the moment, telling journalists that, “If there is a reaction from the president, we will inform you about it.” 

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.