ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Yaryna Herashchenko had not heard from her boyfriend since he surrendered in May when the steelworks he was defending in southeast Ukraine fell to Russian forces – but on Thursday she finally got the message she had so longed to hear.
“Good morning once again, my darling! At the moment everything is good here,” Ihor, 32, said in an audio message to Herashchenko after his release along with more than 200 other Ukrainians in a prisoner swap on Wednesday with Russia.
Asked how she felt on getting news about the swap, Herashchenko said: “Happiness, shock, tears, joy – a whole spectrum of emotions …”
The 29-year-old has not seen Ihor since August 2021. He serves in the Azov Regiment and had been holed up for months in the besieged steelworks in the port city of Mariupol. She asked that his surname not be used in this article.
Herashchenko, speaking to Reuters in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, said she had last heard from Ihor on May 17 when he messaged her to say he was leaving the Azovstal steel plant and would not be reachable.
In his short audio message, Ihor said he and his comrades were now at an unidentified sanatorium after being fed and given new clothes.
“Everything is cool. For how long we will be in the sanatoriums is unclear for now,” he said in the message.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia helped mediate the prisoner swap and at least five senior Ukrainian commanders released are currently in Turkey. Ukraine’s security service said some of those involved in the exchange were in Ukraine but Ihor’s whereabouts were unclear.
“We were not told (where they are), I think for the sake of our loved ones’ safety. We are waiting to be told when we can go to see them … We do not insist. They need first to undergo rehabilitation, get back to normal, eat,” Herashchenko said.
“I did not lose hope for even a second that we will see each one day,” she said. “The only question was time – how long would we have to wait. But I was ready to wait as long as needed.”
Wednesday’s prisoner swap, the largest since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, involved almost 300 people in total, including 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians, 10 foreigners and the commanders who led the defence of Mariupol.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alison Williams)