Jailed Ukrainian pilot heads home under prisoner swap deal with Russia

A jailed pilot returned to Ukraine on Wednesday after being freed in a prisoner swap deal with Russia. Nadiya Savchenko, who became a national heroine in her home country after being detained two years ago, landed aboard the president’s plane in the capital, Kiev. Meanwhile, two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, landed in Moscow after being returned to Russia by Ukraine. The deal was expected to ease tensions between the two countries ahead of an EU decision on whether to extend sanctions against Russia.

I’ll believe it, when I see [my son]. We only wait, hope and believe…we’ve got no other options

Alexandrov’s father, Anatoly

Savchenko, a military pilot, volunteered to fight with a ground unit against pro-Moscow separatists who rose up against Kiev’s rule in eastern Ukraine. The 35-year-old was captured and jailed for 22 years in southern Russia over the deaths of two journalists killed by artillery fire. Yerofeyev and Alexandrov, who were both serving 14 years, have said they were Russian special forces soldiers captured while carrying out a secret operation in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s relations with its neighbour have been toxic since 2014 when it annexed the Crimea peninsula in the wake of an uprising which forced out the Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich.

We will do everything possible for Nadiya to return home as soon as possible. I’ll do everything to bring her back this month

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko