Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that five soldiers who defended the Azovstal plant in the southern city of Mariupol would return to Ukraine.
“We are returning home from Türkiye and bringing our heroes home. Ukrainian soldiers Denys Prokopenko, Svyatoslav Palamar, Serhiy Volynsky, Oleh Khomenko, Denys Shleha. They will finally be with their relatives,” Zelensky said in a Telegram post.
In the video, Zelensky is seen meeting and hugging the men at an airport field before boarding a plane.
The five Ukrainian soldiers surrendered following the fall of Mariupol. After their release from Russian captivity, they were taken to Turkey as part of a prisoner swap back in September, where they were obliged to stay until the end of the war, according to the terms of the swap.
Zelensky was in Turkey to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Background on Azovstal and Mariupol: The siege of the southern port city of Mariupol lasted almost three months, with the steel plant serving as a symbol of resistance and a final holdout as Russian troops advanced further into the city.
The plant sprawled over 4 square miles and once employed more than 10,000 people, a mass of tunnels, pipes and chimney stacks perched on the Azov Sea.
Russian forces shelled the facility day and night for weeks. The Ukrainians’ last stand became increasingly desperate as food and water supplies dwindled, and hundreds of casualties were left without adequate medical care. Huddled together underground in grim conditions, many soldiers and civilians began to doubt that they’d ever escape the plant alive, before negotiations led to a mutual ceasefire.
What Russia says: Turkey was "pressured" by NATO into returning the five Azovstal leaders to Ukraine, Russian state media RIA reported on Saturday, citing Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov called it "a violation of the terms of the existing agreements," adding that "the conditions for the return were violated by both the Turkish side and Kyiv."
CNN's Mariya Knight and Chris Liakos contributed reporting to this post.