Roman Abramovich welcomed Britons released from captivity in Ukraine on to plane home

Group of five was among 10 prisoners of war released in a swap arranged with the help of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich welcomed Britons who had been released from captivity in Ukraine on to a flight out of Russia. PA
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Former Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich welcomed Britons who had been released from captivity in Ukraine on to a flight out of Russia, one member of the group has revealed.

Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, Andrew Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill were among 10 prisoners of war released this week after mediation by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The group left Russia on Wednesday, arriving back in the UK early on Thursday.

Mr Harding said Mr Abramovich identified himself to Mr Pinner on the flight leaving Russia, while Mr Harding spoke to Mr Abramovich's assistant who said the Russian had played a "key part" in their release.

Mr Abramovich, 55, was forced to sell Chelsea after the UK government imposed sanctions on him on March 10 due to his links to Russian President, Vladimir Putin. It was reported that he ended up with nothing from the sale.

Mr Harding told The Sun: "Shaun was chatting away to him about football for a long time and I was speaking to his assistant.

"She said Roman had played a key part in getting us back. It's quite extraordinary to think he was involved — and I wouldn't have even been able to tell you who he was by looking at him.

"He's well respected by Ukrainians and massively by us now, too — he's done a hell of a lot for us and we couldn't thank him enough.

"He was a sound bloke, a really lovely guy. He's a legend — we absolutely love him and I'm so grateful for his efforts."

Mr Pinner's family said he was "in good spirits" and was "looking forward to steak and a glass of red wine" after his release.

He earlier said the group got out of Ukraine “by the skin of their teeth” in a video filmed on a plane after their release.

Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin had been sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in July after being convicted of acting as mercenaries in Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin (L) and Shaun Pinner. Reuters / AFP

The pair, who are both married to Ukrainian partners, moved to Ukraine in 2018.

They each served in Ukraine’s armed forces for years before Russia’s invasion and were captured in Mariupol defending the besieged city.

Speaking on Sky News outside his home in Nottinghamshire on Thursday, Mr Aslin said: “I just want to thank [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy, the Saudi authorities, everyone else who was involved in our release.

“In the next few days, we will say what we want to say to the media. But please respect that we want privacy after the traumatic experience we have been through.

“When I am ready to talk to the media, I will be ready to talk.”

Updated: September 23, 2022, 8:49 AM
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