Two British nationals Russia claims to have captured while fighting Ukrainian forces in Mariupol appeared in a video aired on Russian state television Monday. In the video, the two men called for their release in exchange for the pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who was detained last week by Ukrainian forces.
The dueling videos from Russia and Ukraine have raised questions about the treatment of detainees and prisoners of war nearly two months into the conflict. They also implied that both sides could be setting the stage for a possible swap.
It was unclear how freely Medvedchuk, 67, or the two British nationals, Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, were speaking in the videos, which appeared to be filmed in detention.
Pinner and Aslin spoke separately in the video, in which they asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to work on an exchange. At points, they appeared to be prompted by an unidentified man.
“I understand that Mr. Medvedchuk has been detained, and we look to exchange myself and Aiden Aslin for Mr. Medvedchuk,” Pinner said. “Obviously, I’d really appreciate your help in this matter and pushing this agenda.”
Russia has previously maintained that it was not interested in an exchange because Medvedchuk is not a Russian citizen. He previously led the pro-Russian Opposition Platform — For Life party and is one of the richest people in Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities announced last week that he was apprehended while trying to flee the country after escaping house arrest. He was arrested last year on charges of treason and financing terrorism, which he denies.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on Ukraine to stop publishing images and videos of captured Russian soldiers, some of whom were recorded while they were under interrogation.
Under the Geneva Conventions governing the laws of war, captured prisoners must be treated humanely and cannot be subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment.
In a statement Monday, Pinner’s family said that it hoped the two men would return home soon, and that it was working with Britain’s Foreign Office and relatives of Aslin to ensure that their rights are upheld.
“We would like to make it clear he is not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian army in accordance with Ukrainian legislation,” said the statement, reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Pinner relocated to Ukraine in 2018 and considered it his adopted country, according to the family. He married a Ukrainian woman and served as a marine.
Aslin joined the Ukrainian marines in 2018 and served in the 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol, a key battleground in southeastern Ukraine, his friend Brennan Phillips told The Washington Post last week.
The first video of Aslin in captivity emerged last week and also was aired on Russian television. It showed him in handcuffs and with a bruise on his head.
His grandmother Pamela Hall told the BBC, “I never expected this. I thought if the worst came to the worst that Aiden would die fighting. Obviously, I didn’t want that — I wanted the war to end and for him to go home to his fiancee.”
I am working with @FCDOGovUK to track the whereabouts and secure the release of my constituent, Aiden Aslin.
Aiden chose to risk his life because he believes passionately in the Ukrainian people’s right to live in freedom and democracy. https://t.co/kAv84mH1Wc
— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) April 13, 2022
The Russian footage showing two captured Brits could also put pressure on Johnson to intervene.
Relations between Britain and Russia have been frosty for years, but have significantly worsened since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Johnson has emerged as a key ally of Kyiv, where he made a surprise visit earlier this month, walking the city streets with Zelensky.
On Saturday, Moscow banned Johnson and other senior British politicians from entering Russia for what it said was Britain’s “unprecedented hostile actions” over the war in Ukraine.