A Briton who was threatened with execution after being captured by Russian forces during the siege of Mariupol has been released with nine other international prisoners following the intervention of Saudi Arabia.
Aiden Aslin and “the other British prisoners of war held captive by the Russian authorities” were already on their way back to the UK, said Aslin’s MP, Robert Jenrick, being flown first from Russia to Saudi Arabia.
“Aiden’s return brings to an end to months of agonising uncertainty for Aiden’s loving family in Newark who suffered every day of Aiden’s sham trial but never lost hope,” Jenrick added.
Aslin was forced to surrender with his comrades in April after they ran out of food and ammunition as the Russians closed in on Mariupol. He had moved to Ukraine in 2018 and had joined its army some time before the war.
Liz Truss, the prime minister, said that five Britons held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine had been released. She expressed relief they were “being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families”.
Two Americans were also among the released: Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh, both US military veterans who had volunteered to fight from Alabama. Drueke’s mother spoke to him for about 10 minutes, and said he appeared to be in good condition, the Washington Post reported.
The names of the others were not initially confirmed, but they include a total five Britons, the Foreign Office said. The Saudi foreign ministry said the others were nationals from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia as well as Britain and the US who had been released after the intervention of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Aslin, originally from Newark, and Shaun Pinner, from Watford, and a Moroccan, Saadun Brahim, were sentenced to death on charges of “terrorism” by a court in Russian-controlled east Ukraine in June, in a ruling condemned by Truss, then the foreign secretary, as “a sham judgment”.
The three were put on trial despite being active soldiers and pictured behind bars during the proceedings, much of which were held in private. The Geneva conventions state that prisoners of war on all sides must not be prosecuted for their direct part in hostilities, although they were convicted on the charge of “being a mercenary”.
At the time Aslin’s grandmother, Pamela Hall, said the family were exceptionally anxious about his situation: “There are no words, just no words. It’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare to have a member of your family threatened in this way.
Aslin was also filmed in captivity by Russian television after being captured with a swollen eyelid and bruised forehead, also a breach of the conventions. His family described the footage as “propaganda” and called on Vladimir Putin to “treat him with humanity”.
In a video filmed in February just before the war started, Aslin said he had “originally wanted to be a cop” but he went abroad to fight. The Briton fought for the Syrian Kurdish YPG against Islamic State between 2015 and 2017 before moving to Ukraine a year later.
At the time of the film, Aslin said that he didn’t want to “sit here and complain about everything, but go do something about it”, and that he recognised that a war with Russia could mean “a lot of us will die, get seriously injured”.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, said he welcomed “the safe return of Ukrainian prisoners of war and one civilian, including five British nationals”. It brought “to an end many months of uncertainty and suffering, including the threat of the death penalty, for them and their families, at the hands of Russia”.
A statement from the Saudi foreign ministry said: “The relevant Saudi authorities received and transferred them from Russia to the kingdom and are facilitating procedures for their respective countries.”